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Potential 2024 Republicans flock to Georgia amid Senate runoffs

Georgia is emerging as an early proving ground for the 2024 presidential race, with a handful of potential Republican hopefuls flocking to the state to test their political coattails in its two Senate runoffs.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who just landed the chairmanship at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is among the prospective presidential candidates who have visited Georgia in recent weeks. So are Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioFlorida Republicans close ranks with Trump after Capitol siege Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-Fla.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Booker: It would be 'constitutionally dangerous' not to conduct full Trump impeachment trial Can we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? MORE (R-Ark.) and Vice President Pence.

The flurry of visits by national political players isn’t unexpected. Republicans are poised to enter 2021 with a 50-48 advantage in the Senate, meaning that the balance of power in the upper chamber now rests on the outcome of the two Georgia runoffs.

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The high stakes give potential 2024 Republicans a chance to show off their leadership chops and political influence at a time when the party is still coming to terms with President TrumpDonald TrumpIran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries Pardon-seekers have paid Trump allies tens of thousands to lobby president: NYT MORE’s loss to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenFear of insider attack prompts additional FBI screening of National Guard troops: AP Iran convicts American businessman on spying charge: report DC, state capitals see few issues, heavy security amid protest worries MORE in the November election.

“Georgia is kind of a twofer right now,” one GOP operative said. “It’s easy enough to give the excuse that you’re just there trying to protect the Senate majority, but you’re still getting your name and your face out there for if and when you decide to pull the trigger on a campaign.”

None of the Republicans who have visited Georgia so far have said they will run for president in 2024, nor have they announced efforts to explore such a campaign.

But that hasn't stopped them from trying to strike the tone of a party leader at campaign events for Sens. David PerdueDavid PerdueNikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid McConnell has said he thinks Trump committed impeachable offenses: report Trump's legacy is discord and division MORE (R-Ga.) and Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerNikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid McConnell has said he thinks Trump committed impeachable offenses: report Top Republican congressional aide resigns, rips GOP lawmakers who objected to Biden win MORE (R-Ga.), who are both facing competitive runoff elections against well-funded Democrats on Jan. 5.

“This is literally the showdown of all showdowns,” Rubio, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, said at a rally for Loeffler and Perdue earlier this month. “This is Georgia’s decision to make, but it’s America that will live with the consequences.”

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Other potential 2024 hopefuls are involving themselves in the Georgia runoffs in other ways.

Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyCan we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? In calling out Trump, Nikki Haley warns of a more sinister threat Nikki Haley unveils PAC ahead of possible 2024 White House bid MORE, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who has long been floated as a prospective presidential candidate, has not traveled to Georgia since before Election Day. But her advocacy group, Stand for America, released a video earlier this month attacking Loeffler’s Democratic opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, and she is serving as an honorary co-chair of the Georgia Battleground Fund, a massive Republican fundraising effort.

It’s not unusual for potential candidates to begin testing the waters years before making a formal decision.

Former President Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, for instance, helped lay the groundwork for his successful White House run four years later. And Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzNewly released video from inside Capitol siege shows rioters confronting police, rifling through Senate desks Can we protect our country — from our rulers, and ourselves? Democratic super PAC targets Hawley, Cruz in new ad blitz MORE (R-Texas) made numerous trips to early primary and caucus states such as Iowa and South Carolina years before his 2016 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

But Trump still looms large over the next class of Republican presidential contenders. Despite losing reelection to Biden, the president maintains a tight grip on the GOP and its conservative voter base, and he has reportedly floated the idea of mounting another presidential run in 2024.

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Republicans are watching Trump’s next moves closely, aware of the backlash they could face if he interprets their political maneuvers as a challenge to his dominance in the GOP.

Even as Trump has refused to concede the election to Biden and spread false claims of widespread voter fraud, many Republicans have either remained silent on or encouraged his behavior so as to avoid angering the president or his supporters, whose backing will almost certainly make or break any future political ambitions.

Laura IngrahamLaura Anne IngrahamFox News to revamp daytime programming, replace 7 pm news hour with opinion show Sacking the Capitol proves free speech is in trouble FBI: No evidence antifa involved in Capitol riot MORE, one of Trump’s biggest media boosters, said earlier this month that the president would remain a GOP “kingmaker” regardless of the outcome of the 2020 election, noting the influence his political brand still carried among Republican voters.

“If there is no path for Donald Trump's second term, it doesn't mean the end of the ‘America first’ movement or his role in leading it,” Ingraham said on her Fox News show. “On the contrary, this is only the beginning.”

In a sign of Trump’s continued strength among Republican voters, a Politico-Morning Consult poll released Tuesday showed the president as the heavy favorite in a hypothetical 2024 GOP primary. He captured the support of 53 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, giving him a staggering 41-point lead over Pence, who finished in second place.

While Republicans are treading lightly with regard to their future plans, a handful of the party’s most prominent figures have caught the attention of political observers looking ahead to 2024.

Haley campaigned for Trump and down-ballot Republican candidates throughout the 2020 election cycle, making stops in early-voting states Iowa and New Hampshire.

Likewise, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoBiden should expand contact between US and Taiwanese officials On The Money: Retail sales drop in latest sign of weakening economy | Fast-food workers strike for minimum wage | US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits US officials raise concerns over Mexico's handling of energy permits MORE also reignited speculation about a potential White House run when he traveled to Wisconsin in September to address Republican members of the state legislature, a trip that critics said inappropriately mingled politics and official business.

The State Department defended the address at the time as an “important policy speech” about the need to be “vigilant against the Chinese Communist Party’s malign influence at the subnational level.”