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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 RubioSanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack Senate confirms Vilsack as Agriculture secretary DeSantis easily defeats Rubio, Scott in hypothetical presidential primary: poll MORE (R-Fla.) and Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonOn The Money: Schumer urges Democrats to stick together on .9T bill | Collins rules out GOP support for Biden relief plan | Powell fights inflation fears Biden health nominee faces first Senate test Trump to attend private RNC donor retreat 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 TrumpRomney: 'Pretty sure' Trump would win 2024 GOP nomination if he ran for president Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Trump says 'no doubt' Tiger Woods will be back after accident MORE’s loss to President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenHoyer: House will vote on COVID-19 relief bill Friday Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears 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 PerdueGeorgia's GOP-led Senate passes bill requiring ID for absentee voting Perdue rules out 2022 Senate bid against Warnock Loeffler leaves door open to 2022 rematch against Warnock MORE (R-Ga.) and Kelly LoefflerKelly LoefflerGeorgia's GOP-led Senate passes bill requiring ID for absentee voting Lawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing Perdue rules out 2022 Senate bid against Warnock 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 HaleyJuan Williams: The GOP is a party without ideas Is the 'civil war' in the Republican Party really over? Is Nikki Haley morphing into a presidency-losing Mitt Romney? 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 CruzOvernight Defense: Law enforcement officials blame Pentagon 'reluctance' to deploy National Guard in first hearing on Capitol attack | Watchdog report finds Pentagon didn't fully evaluate border deployment requests | Biden's UN ambassador confirmed Top cops deflect blame over Capitol attack Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack 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 IngrahamTucker Carlson to produce video podcasts for Fox Nation Rush Limbaugh dead at 70 Laura Ingraham rips Trump impeachment lawyer: 'It was terrible' 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 PompeoTrump to attend private RNC donor retreat On China, is Biden channeling Trump or Trump's administration? They're not the same House Republican calls on Biden to boycott Beijing Olympics 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.”