Global Courant 2023-05-26 14:00:00
In the 2022 midterm elections, a number of far-right candidates backed by former President Donald Trump made it to the primary — only to ruin important races with a general electorate that saw them as too extreme.
And now Republicans are nervously bracing for many of them to run again.
At least four of these candidates who ran and lost in 2022 have expressed interest in running again in 2024 — or have already announced bids. They test the party’s commitment this cycle to highlight “candidate quality” and offer a glimmer of hope to Democrats as they navigate a difficult Senate map and narrow field of swing House races.
Jim Marchant, the failed GOP Secretary of State in Nevada, recently launched his campaign to challenge a Democratic Senate incumbent. Kari Lake, who narrowly lost her Arizona gubernatorial bid last fall and continues to lose her lawsuits to challenge the results, is poised to join him in a 2024 Senate bid.
Many party leaders breathed a sigh of relief Thursday night when Doug Mastriano, a far-right Pennsylvania senator who lost his race for governor last year, announced he would not be running a Senate campaign.
But at the House level, Republicans Joe Kent in Washington and JR Majewski in Ohio — two MAGA candidates who hugged Trump but fell short in the districts favored by Republicans — have already launched their next bids. Others may join soon.
All of these candidates placed Trump’s bogus claims of stolen elections at the center of their campaigns, helping them get through contested primaries but putting them at a disadvantage against independents in the general election. Their defeats have led some party leaders to suggest taking a more active role in the primary process.
Senator Steve Daines, R-Mont., chairman of the National Republican Senate Judiciary Committee, told NBC News in an interview last month that Republicans must appeal to voters “beyond the Republican base” to win victories next fall — something he said will partially relying on campaigns for “the future, not looking in the rearview mirror or the past.”
“Winning elections is about addition and multiplication, not subtraction and division,” he said. “And so that’s something that every candidate has to look in the mirror and say, ‘Am I a candidate who can assemble the Republican base first and also appeal to independent voters?’ That’s the recipe.”
Lake recently met with Daines and six other Republican senators to discuss her potential Senate bid, a national Republican strategist said. Daines said he has asked potential candidates to share with him a plan on how to win both primary and general elections.
Daines, who supported Trump last month, believes the former president will be helpful with who he does or does not support in primaries. But last year it was Trump who helped elevate many of these candidates through contested primaries with his sought-after endorsement.
Trump’s campaign did not return requests for comment on whether he would endorse some of the same candidates this time around.
Terry Sullivan, who was campaign manager for Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 Florida presidential campaign, said that while many candidates improve on a second run, there were “a lot of really crappy candidates last time.”
“And if you’re just a fundamentally flawed candidate the first time you run, you’re still a fundamentally flawed candidate the second time you run,” he said. What. And the difference now is that they’re getting more oxygen than ever in the past, and they’re actually winning primaries.”
If anything, what concerns Republicans most about some of these candidates is, as Daines put it, the push for a new procedure for the 2020 (and maybe 2022) election.
That doesn’t seem to change. Lake, for example, announced Tuesday that she would petition the Supreme Court to hear her latest case to void her 2022 defeat by Katie Hobbs, then Democratic Arizona Secretary of State.
“I think if Kari could recalibrate her message away from the stolen election claims, she has enough raw political talent to make that race competitive,” said the national Republican strategist.
But that wasn’t transferable to other 2022 losers seeking Senate seats this cycle.
No, said this person. “I think that’s Kari Lake specific.”
In a statement, Lake said, “It is undoubtedly what it takes to vote Republicans up and down to save our great nation,” adding a request to “Stay tuned” for an “important” announcement in a few weeks.
Marchant did not respond to a request for comment.
Democrats have mostly remained silent on the evolving GOP primary field, but outside groups have left the doors open to boost more extreme candidates they believe are easier to beat, just as some Democrats did over the past cycle. In Nevada, Democrats have already started targeting Marchant, highlighting the comments he made on a webcast earlier this year, that seemed to endorse military intervention in the 2024 vote.
“There has never been a greater gulf between the kinds of candidates that Republican primary voters demand and the kinds of candidates that general election voters will accept,” said Democratic strategist Rich Lucchette. “Republicans underperformed as they nominated those who want to limit women’s reproductive rights, scrap Medicare and Medicaid, and support right-wing political violence, including the January 6 storming of the Capitol.”
Among the competitive House races, few frustrated Republicans more than last year’s battle in Toledo, Ohio, where long-entrenched Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur was considered vulnerable in a 9th Congressional District that had been re-drafted to be friendlier to the GOP.
Majewski — an Air Force veteran who, before winning his party’s nomination, was best known for painting a Trump banner on his lawn — lost to Kaptur by 13 points, his campaign sunk by a Associated Press report that he had misrepresented his military service. Others on the ground in the district complained of what they saw as a lazy and undisciplined campaign that failed to activate grassroots voters and capitalize on Kaptur’s weaknesses.
Undeterred, Majewski angles for a rematch in 2024. GOP leaders in Ohio and nationally worry about a scenario where his recent familiarity with voters pulls him out of a crowded primary and prevents them from securing a winnable seat.
“I can put up with a MAGA candidate who can win if they do something right, if they bring something to the table to help them get elected,” said an unaffiliated Ohio 9th District Republican official who asked for anonymity to to speak frankly. This person added a Majewski nomination “undoubtedly” locks in a GOP loss.
Another Republican operative involved in Ohio races joked that it’s time for Majewski to “repaint the lawn, not announce another campaign.”
Majewski did not respond to a request for comment.
In the 3rd Congressional District of Washington, Kent, who promoted Trump’s false claims of stolen elections and suggested with no evidence that his own defeat may have been illegitimate, thinks 2024 will be much more favorable to him than his latest bid. Kent was able to defeat the then Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., in a primary last year after she voted to impeach Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, but lost to Marie Gluesenkamp Perez in a right-leaning district.
In a recent memo to NBC News, Kent’s campaign argued that his loss in 2022 was due to his gross underspending during the primary and because his opponent had no track record in Congress in the general election that he could fight. This time, he has no job to face in a primary and can go on the offensive against a Democratic rival who has a track record “to reveal,” the memo said.
“Every hurdle I faced in 2022 has been removed for 2024: battling an incumbent, facing a barrage of establishment-backed attack ads in the primary, lack of funding from the DC Republicans at the general elections, depressed nationwide Republican voter turnout, and a Democratic opponent who then didn’t have the radical voting record she has now,” Kent said via email.
He added that his narrow defeat fell well within the typical right-wing move the district makes in presidential years.
“We have good reasons to be optimistic about 2024,” he said.
That’s not the only thing about the presidential cycle that could work in favor of some of these candidates. As Sullivan said, a presidential cycle means many more reporters will focus on Des Moines and Manchester, New Hampshire, rather than Pittsburgh and Phoenix.
“You’re going to get a lot less media coverage across the board,” he said. “It’s fundamentally different how it’s covered.”