How Trump is trampling on McConnell's efforts to win back the Senate
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu dealt a serious blow to Senate Republicans Tuesday when he took a pass on running for Senate against one of the GOP's top targets—Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
But Sununu is no exception to the rule, and he could very well be the canary in the coal mine for Senate Republicans. While Republicans had been eyeing New Hampshire as a serious pick-up opportunity, they had also dabbled with the idea of making Democrats at least squander some resources on playing defense in blue states like Vermont and Maryland. But as NBC News points out, that GOP aspiration is contingent on one of those state's popular Republican governors showing any interest at all in signing on to be part of the Senate GOP caucus.
"Vermont Gov. Phil Scott won re-election by 15 percentage points in 2018, the same year his famously progressive state overwhelmingly handed independent Sen. Bernie Sanders a third term," writes NBC. But Scott—really the only Vermont Republican who could pull off an upset against incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy—didn't even vote for Trump and has no interest in running for Senate.
Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is in the same boat—popular but uninterested in running.
In short, it appears no moderate, sane-ish Republicans are jumping at the chance to join Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's caucus, particularly because Trump is so clearly calling the shots. Sununu's very public rejection of the Senate GOP also isn't going to make joining the caucus seem any more appealing to the kinds of candidates who would likely fare better in a general election.
So as moderate Republicans decline to run while fringe GOP candidates dominate the field, the entire Republican line up is getting more extreme.
That has Brian Walsh, a former Senate GOP campaign operative, hearing "echoes of 2010," when Senate Republicans failed to seize a majority despite the pro-Republican political environment.
"Arguably, Republicans lost five seats between 2010 and 2012 because of bad general election candidates," Walsh told NBC. "I'm not saying that's necessarily going to happen here. We don't know that yet. But broadly, candidates matter."
Here's the GOP scorecard so far:
In New Hampshire, which Republicans had slated as a top target for a pick up, they're now scrambling for a candidate.
In Georgia, another GOP pick-up opportunity, Republicans will likely be saddled with Trump pick Herschel Walker, who has a violent and allegedly abusive history.
In Nevada, which Republicans also hope to flip, the state party is in the midst of an epic meltdown. At the same time, they appear to be rallying around former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who made stoking Trump's Big Lie his life's mission.
Laxalt sued to stop the ballot counting in the state's largest county (which Trump lost), sued to overturn Biden's victory, baselessly claimed votes of dead people had been counted, baselessly claimed votes from undocumented immigrants had tipped the state to Biden, and again filed a post-certification lawsuit alleging the GOP secretary of state had allowed non-citizens to vote.
In Arizona, another GOP flip opportunity, the four-person primary is headed hard right and nasty negative as state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, energy executive Jim Lamon, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mick McGuire and Blake Masters duke it out. Brnovich (aka nunchuck guy) likely has the highest statewide name recognition outside of GOP Gov. Doug Ducey (who Trump hates and has declined to run). But Masters runs billionaire Peter Thiel's investment firm and just this week Trump announced a fundraiser for him (because Trump also faults Brnovich for failing to overturn the state's 2020 results).
In Pennsylvania, one of Democrats' best pick-up opportunities, the GOP primary for the open seat has turned downright embarrassing. Trump endorsed Army vet Sean Parnell, who is embroiled in an ugly custody battle in which his estranged wife testified that Parnell abused her and one of their children. Senate Republicans are dodging questions about the race as Parnell's candidacy spirals.
In North Carolina, which also has an open Senate seat, Trump complicated the race with an early endorsement of a lesser-known GOP congressman, Rep. Ted Budd, while former Gov. Pat McCrory has a higher profile and a likely edge among Republican voters. If McCrory triumphs, it remains to be seen whether he can win over Trump voters in the general election.
Other potential Democratic pick ups include Florida and Wisconsin, with incumbent Sens. Marco Rubio and Ron Johnson, and on the outside edge, open seats in Ohio and Missouri, where Republicans just might manage to put the seats in play despite their considerable advantages in each state.
Notably, Trump is playing key role in nearly every one of those Senate contests. In almost every state, Trump has done at least one of several things: repelled a top-tier candidate, made an endorsement, radicalized the GOP field, or become a complicating factor by incessantly pushing his election fraud lies and demanding absolute fealty.
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