Jun 21, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP Senate hopefuls still want Trump's stamp of approval

Illustration of a wooden rubber stamp wearing a red tie

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Republicans' hopes of taking back the U.S. Senate in 2024 hinge on winning races in a few key states — and in most of those states, GOP contenders are rushing to endorse former President Trump, hoping for his endorsement in return.

Why it matters: It's a reflection of Trump's hold on the GOP base, despite his many legal troubles and disappointing record endorsing 2022 hopefuls.

  • He's painted Republican candidates into a corner: Many feel compelled to seek his blessing — even though that could backfire as he faces more investigations and polls indicate most Americans think he shouldn't run for president.

What we're watching: Democrats hold a 51-49 edge in the Senate, but the 2024 election map could give Republicans an edge. The GOP has a chance to pick up seats in states Trump won in 2020 — West Virginia, Montana and Ohio — as well as politically divided Arizona, Pennsylvania and Nevada.

State of play: In West Virginia, Republican Gov. Jim Justice and Rep. Alex Mooney — whose website touts Trump's backing in last year's U.S. House race — both have endorsed Trump for president. They're battling for the seat now held by Sen. Joe Manchin, who hasn't announced his election plans.

  • In Montana, businessman Tim Sheehy is being recruited to run for Sen. Jon Tester's (D) seat. Sheehy already says he's backing Trump "100 percent" in 2024 — though he didn’t vote for Trump in the 2016 primary and donated to a PAC favoring Nikki Haley, another GOP presidential candidate, after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
  • Ohio Senate candidate Bernie Moreno has endorsed Trump, and joined Trump supporters at the former president's golf club in Bedminster, N.J., after he was arraigned in the classified documents case in Florida. Also at the club was 2020 election denier Jim Marchant, who's running for a Nevada Senate seat and has backed Trump in the past.
  • Kari Lake, who lost a bid for Arizona governor last year and is considering a Senate bid, is a Trump supporter — as is Mark Lamb, an Arizona county sheriff who has officially entered the Senate race. Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I) hasn't announced her plans for 2024.
  • Indiana is solidly red, but Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), isn't taking any chances. He was among the first prominent members of the House GOP conference to back Trump for 2024.

Between the lines: In the most competitive races in 2022, Trump's endorsements fell flat.

Zoom in: Some 2024 GOP Senate prospects have held off on publicly supporting Trump, apparently wary of turning off independent voters.

  • Potential Pennsylvania Senate candidate David McCormick told Politico: "There appears to be a number of great people that are going to jump into the arena, and I have not made a decision to support anybody" in the presidential race.
  • Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose — who was endorsed by Trump when he ran for state office — is weighing a run for the U.S. Senate and says a Trump endorsement “doesn’t carry the same weight it used to.”

What they're saying: "Candidate are closely evaluating the value and necessity of endorsement in the primary versus any potential downside in the general election," Justin Sayfie, a former Jeb Bush spokesman, tells Axios.

  • "It was an issue that they had to deal with before the [Trump] indictments. Now it's a little bit more complicated. ... If they don’t have a competitive primary, why be associated with that endorsement and get involved in Trump's legal problems?"
  • But, he added, "if they do have a competitive primary, then yeah, you’re going to want the Trump endorsement."

Between the lines: Trump endorsed nearly 300 candidates in the 2022 cycle, but he has been a lot slower to endorse for 2024.

  • He's endorsed just one so far: Indiana's Banks.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to note that GOP Senate candidate Moreno has endorsed Trump.

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