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Top Republican recruits reluctant to step in if Trump is the nominee

Many of their potential recruits are reluctant to run alongside Trump, who dominates the spotlight, pushes back crucial independent voters and holds fellow Republicans to account for his unpredictable statements. It’s a dynamic the candidates don’t like, and it’s only become clearer since Trump’s town hall on CNN, when he spent 70 minutes on prime-time television this month. unleashing a torrent of inflammatory remarks.

Few Republicans publicly fear the former president will seriously damage their pew in either chamber, and they argue that many candidates on the fence will eventually decide to run. But Trump’s resurgence has notably chilled recruiting across the country. And because only a handful of seats separate the two parties in the House and Senate, any flop could shorten the path to a majority. There is little margin for error.

“Some people have asked me, ‘Do I have to race next year?’ If you’re in a swing neighborhood, I said, ‘No,'” said former Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who lost her suburban neighborhood in 2018 during a Democratic wave fueled by Trump: “If he’s going to be the nominee, you better wait and run after he washes up. Because you will have no prayer to win.

Trump’s campaign has firmly pushed back against the idea that he could be a drag on candidates.

“President Trump is the undisputed leader of the party, and he will defeat Biden in 2024. He dominates poll after poll — both nationally and statewide — by wide margins,” said Steven Cheung, Trump’s spokesperson. “There is no other person in this country who can generate the kind of enthusiasm and energy that President Trump can.”

But GOP strategists aren’t sensing that eagerness from some key potential recruits.

National Republican leaders are aggressively recruiting David McCormick, a former business executive and combat veteran, to run for the Pennsylvania Senate. They see him as someone with a golden resume, the ability to win over major suburban voters, and the personal wealth to help fund what is expected to be a very expensive campaign.

McCormick said he hasn’t made up his mind. The prospect of running alongside Trump — and all that entails — is among the things McCormick and his team are weighing as he decides to run, according to two Republicans close to him.

“That’s about the only thing they’re talking about,” said one of those Republicans, who added that Trump looking dominant in the presidential primary is the only thing that “may make him a little more suspicious. May it carry Pennsylvania?

A second Republican also said it was part of the “calculus” for McCormick. Both Republican sources, however, believe McCormick will eventually enter the race — a view shared by national GOP officials. McCormick has done the legwork of a pending candidate, recently publishing a book, launching a political committee and hiring staff.

But McCormick and Trump have a history that could prove tricky for both of them if they share a ticket. When McCormick ran unsuccessfully for the Senate last year, Trump endorsed his chief GOP opponent and denounced McCormick as a “liberal Wall Street Republican.” McCormick later revealed a private conversation in his book in which Trump told him he had to falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen to win. “I made it clear to him that I couldn’t do this,” McCormick wrote.

There is, however, the possibility of a detente: Trump privately told Republicans that far-right Sen. Doug Mastriano, who is also considering a Senate bid after badly losing the gubernatorial race last year, could hurt the former president if they were on the ballot together.

A spokesperson for McCormick declined to comment for this story.

Josh Novotney, a Pennsylvania-based GOP consultant, said every potential candidate considers who they’ll share a ticket with — and McCormick is no different.

“From everything I’ve heard, McCormick is absolutely looking at those data points, both for his primary, who he would go against, and also for who will be leading the polls in November of next year for the Republicans,” he said. said. “It would be crazy not to take all of these factors into account.”

The GOP’s path to a Senate majority is primarily through the Trump-friendly states of Montana, Ohio and West Virginia. For Republicans in those places, Trump on the ballot is a plus — and they only have to flip two seats to regain control of the upper house if they lose the White House.

But Republicans also hope to bring states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Nevada into play, where Biden narrowly won. On those battlegrounds, many GOP strategists have seen the party underperform in three straight elections with Trump either in the White House or under the control of the Republican Party — now they see Trump as a liability.

The House map is more difficult for Republicans than the Senate. Only five incumbent Democrats hold a district that Trump carried in 2020, meaning the GOP must win in Biden’s suburban turf to retain and expand its tiny majority. It means urging candidates to run alongside Trump.

“If they think President Trump will be the nominee, they fear 2024 will be a bad year,” Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who predicted that if another GOP presidential candidate wins the nomination, the party could hold the House and retake the Senate. “But I’m afraid the only way for us to shoot ourselves in both feet is to have the number 45 at the top of our ticket.”

“When you have the chaos above you and bizarre statements are being made every day, things that you can’t defend, it makes it difficult,” added Bacon, who has held a swing district since 2017.

O’Dea, a construction tycoon who lost to Democratic Sen. Michael Benet by 15 points in 2022, notably drew the wrath of Trump by refusing to bow down to inaccurate claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. As the midterm results rolled in, the former president applauded Bennet’s victory on his social media platform: “Joe O’Dea lost BIG!”

Recruiters have urged O’Dea to consider a run against the freshman Democratic representative. Yadira Caraveo in a highly competitive district that Biden won by 5 runs — an area far less blue than the state as a whole. But his stance on Trump and abortion rights could complicate O’Dea’s candidacy even before he faces a Democratic opponent, making it difficult for him to win in a GOP primary.

“Trump is obviously part of the conversation in a big way,” a person close to O’Dea said. “The question is: does the party want to move forward, win and govern or does it want to look back?

Beyond Colorado, the fear is also reflected in potential candidates on the East Coast. Rhode Island’s Allan Fung and Connecticut’s George Logan are each eyeing rematches after narrow losses in 2022, but both have expressed concern about how to navigate Trump at the top of the ticket, according to people familiar with their thinking. . Biden carried his two districts by double-digit margins in 2020.

Similar conversations have taken place in New York, where party operatives hope to sway Alison Esposito, a lesbian NYPD veteran who ran for lieutenant governor in 2022, to confront the rep. pat ryan (DN.Y.), according to someone familiar with his thinking.

“No matter who is leading the presidential ticket, the stakes and the focus of any campaign are the voters and how to make NY a better place,” said Eric Amidon, spokesman for Esposito.

The first question many potential congressional candidates ask is how Trump affects their individual race, said two Republicans involved in the candidate search.

“It’s a huge factor. The top of the ticket matters,” said a potential GOP congressional candidate in Pennsylvania, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly about his thinking. “If someone had a crystal ball and could tell me who was at the top of the ticket, that would definitely affect my decision.”

Some GOP operatives said they’ve urged candidates to wait until 2026, when Trump may have finished seeking election and few feel optimistic about winning back House seats in Kansas. or in New Hampshire which have veered left in recent years. But other recruiters believe they can ultimately sway uncertain candidates by pointing to 2020 and Republicans’ success in winning House seats even as Trump lost the White House.

“President Trump brings a lot of excitement to the ticket,” said Chris Miles, a strategist for Fung’s 2022 campaign, who predicted Trump could increase GOP turnout in Rhode Island. “Anyone who argues otherwise should watch the 2020 Congressional wins in tough seats.”

Some key examples: candidates like GOP representatives. David Valadao, Young Kim And michelle steel in California were able to create their own brand and win Democratic-leaning seats where Trump himself was not popular.

Additionally, some recruiters have argued that current polls show Trump competitive with Biden in battleground states and Trump could be an asset by increasing turnout among his base. For example, national Republicans believe that if Trump split a ticket with McCormick, the path to victory for both men would lie in Trump increasing rural turnout and McCormick keeping the number of Republicans in the suburbs, a source said. GOP national strategist.

“He was on the ticket in 2020,” the rep said. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former House campaign chairman, said of Trump. “We took places and had one of our best candidate crops ever.”

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