Architect of Senate GOP Comeback Plan Reveals Two Decisive 2024 Picks

Architect of Senate GOP Comeback Plan Reveals Two Decisive 2024 Picks
(Illustration by The Epoch Times, Getty Images)
May 11, 2024
May 14, 2024

If Republicans regain control of the Senate on Nov. 5, two candidate recruitment decisions made by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) early in the 2024 campaign will have likely proved significant.

Those decisions were to put the money and campaign expertise of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), of which Mr. Daines is chairman, behind GOP political newcomer Tim Sheehy against incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Republican Gov. Jim Justice for the West Virginia seat being vacated by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

The importance of each decision is magnified in a campaign year such as 2024.

Only one flipped seat is needed to move the Senate from its present Democratic majority into a 50–50 split. Two flips put Republicans in the majority with a 51–49 advantage.

This year seems to favor Republicans to pull that off, with only 10 GOP seats to defend and 23 Democratic seats up for election (which includes three independents who caucus with Democrats). A special election is scheduled for two extra seats—one to fill the last two years of the seat of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and one to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), now deceased.

Most incumbents in both parties are heavily favored to win reelection in November, but two Republican and five Democrat senators are retiring, leaving their seats open, as well as Sen. Krysten Sinema (I-Ariz.), who switched to being an independent last year.

“We’ve put together an all-star recruiting class on the field; now we need to finish the job in November,” Mr. Daines told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Daines made recruiting Mr. Sheehy, a successful firefighting industry entrepreneur and former Navy Seal combat veteran, one of his priorities when he took over at the NRSC in 2023, according to officials there.

He was also instrumental in securing former President Donald Trump’s endorsement for Mr. Sheehy, thus avoiding what could have been a divisive party primary.

The Montana race has already produced something unseen in Mr. Tester’s three previous Senate wins: He trails Mr. Sheehy by three points in the latest Montana poll by J.L. Partners of 503 likely voters, with 7 percent undecided.

Even with the small sample size, the results are raising eyebrows among strategists in both parties.

“That’s pretty spectacular to be in that situation. We are very confident about Montana—that’s the race that I am most confident about, that we will succeed,” a senior Senate Republican campaign strategist told The Epoch Times.

“Trump is going to succeed in Montana by 16 to 20 points, but it’s not just Trump.”

President Trump carried Montana by 20 points over challenger Hillary Clinton 2016 and 16.4 points over Joe Biden in 2020.

However, Mr. Tester, who isn’t a military veteran, recognized the crucial importance of such voters and made a priority of serving on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He became chairman of the panel in 2021.

(Left) Tim Sheehy former Navy SEAL and 2024 Republican Senate candidate, in Montana. (Right) Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in Washington on June 16, 2022. (Courtesy of Tim Sheehy, Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Mr. Tester has also pulled in $33 million to Mr. Sheehy’s $8.4 million through the end of March, according to Federal Election Commission records.

A campaign spokesman for Mr. Tester couldn’t be reached by The Epoch Times for comment.

The Montana primary will be held on June 4.

West Virginia Race

In West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice, who was Mr. Daines’s first choice for GOP nominee, must first get by Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) in the May 14 primary to go head-to-head in November against one of three Democrat candidates on the primary ballot—Don Blankenship, Glenn Elliott, or Zachary Shrewsbury.

Republicans, led by Mr. Daines, recruited Mr. Justice on the assumption that incumbent Mr. Manchin was retiring; he did, but he hasn’t ruled out a late reentry into the contest.

Mr. Justice, arguably West Virginia’s best-known public official, is heavily favored in November, sitting on a 30-point lead in the primary polls.

He was elected governor in 2016 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2017 to support President Trump.

Mr. Mooney said he can win on his record of being more conservative than Mr. Justice, and he said he expects voters in the southern parts of the state to back him.

“West Virginians deserve a leader in Washington who will fight for their conservative values and stand up to the radical left,” Mr. Mooney told The Epoch Times.

“Unlike liberal Jim Justice, I’m the only conservative candidate running for U.S. Senate, and I have the record to show it.

“Liberal Jim Justice’s record is supporting Joe Biden’s spending spree, proposing the largest tax increase in West Viginia history, raising the gas tax, and endorsing pro-transgender legislation. Voters know they can’t trust Jim Justice.”

Asked for a response to Mr. Mooney, Roman Stauffer, Mr. Justice’s campaign manager, told The Epoch Times that “West Virginians overwhelmingly support Gov. Jim Justice for U.S. Senate.”

“He has a strong record of conservative accomplishments from the largest tax cut in state history, economic development and creating thousands of jobs across the state, record budget surpluses, endorsed by the state’s largest pro-life group, highest NRA-rated Republican in the race,” Mr. Stauffer said.

“He is the only Donald Trump-endorsed America First candidate for U.S. Senate in West Virginia, and he will crush Alex Mooney in this election.”

President Donald Trump greets West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice during a dinner at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.V., on June 3, 2018. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Assuming the GOP retains the seats it currently holds, with GOP pickups in Montana and West Virginia, the Senate would switch to Republican control, 51–49, for the 119th Congress, which convenes in January 2025.

However, the senior Senate GOP campaign strategist is confident there will be other pickups.

“It seems highly likely that we will take the majority. The big question is, I don’t have much doubt in my mind that we get to 51, but I don’t know how to predict how much we get beyond that,” the strategist said.

“We basically have nine seats that I can see we have a pretty good path to winning, but traditionally speaking, you don’t knock off many incumbents.”

The retention rate for Senate incumbents hasn’t dipped lower than 80 percent since 2006, according to data by OpenSecrets.

The races in Maryland and Ohio are extremely promising, the GOP strategist said, and the outlook in Wisconsin is on the upswing.

Should all three of those races be GOP wins, the Republican Senate could have a 54–46 majority in 2025.

Maryland candidate Larry Hogan, who served for two terms as Republican governor, remains popular in the deep blue state.

Mr. Hogan is expected to easily best perennial Maryland candidate Robin Ficker in the May 14 primary to then face Rep. David Trone (D-Md.) in the general election.

A wealthy wine merchant with a liberal voting record, Mr. Trone is favored to defeat Prince George County Executive Angela Alsobrooks in the Democrat Senate primary.

The Ohio race pits Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the only member of his party to hold statewide office there, against Republican businessman Bernie Moreno, who has strong backing from President Trump.

The senior GOP Senate strategist cited Ohio’s solidly Republican electorate, President Trump’s popularity there, and the increasing tendency of voters nationwide to vote straight ticket ballots as favoring Mr. Moreno.

“Bernie is a good candidate, he’s raising a lot of money, Ohio is becoming much more Republican. Montana, West Virginia, and Ohio are three states that not that long ago didn’t look anything like they do today,” he said, noting that all have Republican supermajority state legislatures and all statewide officeholders are Republicans, except the Senate seats that are now favored to be GOP pickups.

Wisconsin political observers were shocked when an April 17 survey of likely voters conducted by Marquette Law School found Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) tied with her Republican challenger, entrepreneur Eric Hovde.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) (C) prepares for a hearing at the U.S. Capitol on May 9, 2024. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The results came as a shock because surveys based on likely voters are consistently more accurate in predicting election-day outcomes than those polling registered voters, who may or may not cast their ballots.

“In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin is supported by 52 percent and Republican challenger Eric Hovde by 47 percent among registered voters,” the pollster said in a statement.

“Among likely voters, the race is a tie, with 50 percent for both Baldwin and Hovde.”

Ms. Baldwin’s two-term incumbency and strong reelection win in 2018 would normally place her among the “safe” Senate Democrats seeking another six-year term in November.

A campaign spokesman for Ms. Baldwin couldn’t be reached for comment.

Both the Cook Political Report and 270toWin have put the Wisconsin race in the “leans Democratic” category.
But Mitchell Brown, political strategy director of Washington-based Cygnal, a Republican polling and analytics firm, said he sees growing momentum for Mr. Hovde.

“What we’re seeing in Wisconsin is trending a little more toward potentially a Republican pickup,” Mr. Brown told The Epoch Times, citing the Marquette survey.

“Going back and looking at some of the cross-tabs in their data, yes, I think those numbers are right. If they aren’t exactly right, they’re close.

“That race is going to be tight. I actually think Hovde is a good candidate. I think he’s going to put up a strong front there, and the money should be there to help Republicans. So I see that one as probably the fourth-best flip chance for Republicans.”

Sentinel Action Fund President Jessica Anderson posited that the presence of President Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is especially significant for many of the Senate contests.

“This is the best opportunity we have to regain a Senate majority because in 2024 we’ve got Trump on the ticket and where Trump is on the ticket matters and overlaps with these Senate races in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Montana certainly,” Ms. Anderson told The Epoch Times.

Republicans aren’t likely to have another opportunity this promising for a Senate majority until 2030, she said, because almost all of the Democrats facing reelection races in 2026 and 2028 represent solidly blue states.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) (L) talks with a staff member at the U.S. Capitol, in this file photo. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“There was a lot of finger-pointing about 2022, you know, were the candidates good enough, were they not, did they raise enough money? And Trump helped, but he wasn’t on the ticket, so 2024 is just a different ballgame, and I am pretty optimistic,” Ms. Anderson said.

“I think West Virginia is a pickup, I think Montana is a pickup, Ohio can be a pickup. I think Pennsylvania is hard, but there’s a really good grassroots plan in the state that makes Pennsylvania a possibility.”

Congressional elections often have upsets that even the sharpest political experts don’t expect, and 2024 could see such an outcome in New Mexico’s contest pitting incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) against Neila Domenici, whose father represented the state as a Republican in the Senate for nearly four decades.

Ms. Domenici, a graduate of both Harvard Business School and Georgetown University Law School, has shown unexpected fundraising prowess, reporting more than 1,100 contributions totaling more than $1.11 million in the first quarter of 2024.
Mr. Heinrich is among the Senate’s lowest-profile members, but he has made no bones about his disdain for fossil fuels and his enthusiasm for President Biden’s energy transition.
“All of these investments and incentives are going to accelerate what was already a seismic shift toward clean energy and widespread electrification,” he said in an April 5 video on YouTube.

“Together we can position New Mexico to capitalize on the opportunities that will come with this transition—to lead not just our nation but our world in the transition to a clean energy and fully electrified future.”

In an oil- and gas-rich state such as New Mexico that depends on the industry for 25 percent to 30 percent of all state revenues, taking such a position could be a huge miscalculation, according to GOP campaign strategists.

However, traditional Democratic unions such as the New Mexico Professional Fire Fighters (NMPFF) continue to line up behind Mr. Heinrich.

Miguel Tittmann, the NMPFF’s vice president, said in a May 6 statement announcing the union’s endorsement, “Martin grew up in a strong union household, so he knows that our state, country, and economy are strongest when we protect workers’ rights.”

Ms. Domenici’s campaign spokesman, Britney Dickerson, told The Epoch Times that her boss is a “solution-driven force” and that her campaign “continues to build momentum because New Mexicans are ready for a new direction” for the state and the country.

The New Mexico primary will be held on June 4.