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Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), the head of the the National Republican Senatorial Committee, believes the GOP has a rare opportunity this election cycle.
“The outcome in ‘24 will likely define the makeup of the United States Senate for the rest of the decade,” Daines said in an interview with Bloomberg Government.
Republicans seeking a Senate majority in the 2024 election have one clear early advantage: an unusually favorable map.
Democrats, who have a 51-49 majority, are defending more than twice as many seats as Republicans (23 to 11), including in three Republican-friendly states and several others that may again be presidential-election battlegrounds. No Republican senator is defending a seat in a state President Joe Biden won in 2020.
That Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio — the only three Democratic senators from states that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 — are all up for re-election in 2024 underscores the urgency for Republicans to capture the majority this cycle.
Tester, who is Daines’ home-state colleague, and Brown are seeking re-election in states Trump won by 16 points and 8 points, respectively. Manchin, who’s clashed with the Biden administration over energy policy and a debt-ceiling impasse, hasn’t said if he’ll try to defend his seat in a state Trump won by 39 points.
But geography isn’t destiny — “you can’t fall in love with the map,” Daines said — and Manchin, Tester, and Brown all are battle-tested incumbents who have won elections for decades. “They are formidable opponents,” Daines said.
Daines emphasized the importance of candidate recruitment and finding nominees “who not only can win a primary election, but also can win a general election.” In the 2022 Senate elections, amid Biden’s lackluster approval ratings, Republicans lost winnable seats and fell short of a majority partly because of flawed general-election candidates.
A successful Republican candidate will be forward-looking and won’t try to “relitigate” the past, Daines said.
One prospective candidate Daines likes is West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who’s expected to announce for Manchin’s seat on Thursday. “If Governor Justice gets in that race, he will be a formidable opponent, and West Virginia becomes a very likely pickup seat,” Daines said.
Justice would face a primary with Rep. Alex Mooney (R), who’s backed by the Club for Growth, a conservative group advocating for tax and spending cuts. “We share a lot of common ground as it relates to outcomes we want to see in terms of policy,” Daines said of the Club. “We might have some disagreements about which candidate is best suited to get there, but we’re focused on ultimately winning control of the United States Senate.”
Other than West Virginia, Montana, and Ohio, Daines also is targeting the seats of five senators in states Biden won by fewer than 3 percentage points in 2020. Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Bob Casey (Pa.), and Jacky Rosen (Nev.) are seeking re-election; Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) is retiring; and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), an independent who aligns with Democrats for committee assignments, hasn’t said if she’ll run again.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.
Bloomberg Government: How will Republicans win a Senate majority in 2024?
Daines: It’s an eight-state map, and it breaks down to three states of those eight that will be the high-priority states. These are red states that have Democrats up in the Senate. The states are Montana, West Virginia, Ohio. In each of those states, every single statewide elected official is a Republican except for one Democrat senator.
These states have rejected the green collar that the Democrats have tried to put on blue-collar workers, and they’ve become Republican voters. Ohio used to be a swing state in the electoral college. Think about the days of Bush-Kerry and so forth. Ohio is now a red state, and we saw that in this last election of JD Vance in a midterm. West Virginia, no matter who our nominee is for president, our nominee will win West Virginia by 35 to 40 points. In Ohio, the Republican nominee for president will win it by six to nine points. In Montana, the Republican nominee for president will win it by 15 to 20 points.
Then you go to five battleground states for the Senate as well as the presidency, and that will be Nevada and Arizona, and then it’ll be Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Those states will all have very competitive Senate as well as presidential races.
BGOV: Is there an added importance or urgency to winning the majority in 2024, given that the only three Democratic Senators from Trump states are all up for election this year and none in ‘26 or ‘28?
Daines: This is why ’24 is such an important map for the United States Senate because the outcome in ‘24 will likely define the makeup of the United States Senate for the rest of the decade. If Republicans win the Senate in ‘24, there’s pretty good odds they can keep the majority through the end of the decade. But if we don’t win the majority in ’24, we could be in the minority for the rest of the decade because there are no Democrats up in red states in ‘26 or ‘28 as you just mentioned.
BGOV: When you say, ‘you can’t fall in love with the map,’ could you elaborate?
Daines: When you look at the Democrat senators who are up in those red states, they are formidable opponents. They have been successful in prior elections of winning in states that are leaning to the right, and they’ve won seats as Democrats. So this is why each one of these races is going to be very expensive. They’re all going to nationalize. We recognize that, and these are going to be tough races that are probably going be within just a few points one way or the other on election night.
BGOV: What did you take away from the 2022 Senate election results and how will you apply any lessons to 2024?
Daines: We need to find candidates and recruit candidates who not only can win a primary election but also can win a general election. It takes both. If you have a candidate who can win a general but can’t win a primary, well, you’re not going to get to the general. But conversely, if you can win the primary but can’t convince independent voters as well as pull together the spectrum of the Republican voter base, you’re not going to win a general. So we’ll need candidates that can unite the Republican vote as well as appeal to independent voters. That will be the winning recipe for 2024.
BGOV: What can you do at the NRSC to meet that goal of fielding nominees who can win both the primary and a general?
Daines: One thing we saw from ‘22 is that candidates that talk about the future of the country — the policies they want to see, the direction they want the country to head — that that’s good ground to run on. And talk about relitigating the past is not a winning strategy.
BGOV: You’ve also counseled Republican candidates to run on a simple and concise message. What should that be?
Daines: More jobs, less government.
BGOV: How will the presidential election affect the Senate races?
Daines: In those three red states, the presidential is always going to have an effect downballot. Our nominee is going to win by double digits in West Virginia and Montana and probably close to double digits in Ohio. Joe Biden’s been a gift in terms of how unpopular he is and how out of step he is with where most of the American people are. He’s a very unpopular president. And ‘24 will be a referendum on Joe Biden and the record of the Senate Democrats.
BGOV: Would former President Trump be the strongest candidate to share a ballot with your Republican Senate candidates?
Daines: President Trump will be a strong candidate for us as a nominee in states like Montana, West Virginia, and Ohio. And those three states most likely will define majority control of the United States Senate.
(Editor’s note: Daines subsequently endorsed Trump.)
Read More BGOV Q&As:
- DelBene Says Math Favors Democrats in 2024 House Comeback: Q&A
- House GOP Election Chief Optimistic on 2024 Even With Trump: Q&A
To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at email@example.com