GOP sees Biden crises as boon for midterm recruitment

The U.S. Capitol is seen on July 1
Greg Nash

Republicans are hopeful that a whirlwind of foreign and domestic crises facing the Biden administration will aid their recruitment efforts and convince top-tier candidates to jump into marquee Senate and House races ahead of the 2022 midterms.

The GOP has been pounding President Biden and congressional Democrats for months on an array of issues, from a surge in attempted border crossings to their COVID-19 response to inflation. But with the mushrooming crisis in Afghanistan grabbing headlines and shocking the nation, Republicans believe it is the middle of a perfect storm that could persuade prominent Republicans to get off the bench and into top-tier midterm contests.

“For any Republican wavering on running for office in the midterms, I must say the water looks warm with inflation ablaze, COVID not vanquished and now this Afghanistan crisis,” said GOP donor Dan Eberhart.

Republicans were already oozing confidence that they could make gains in the midterms given the historical trend that the party in the White House typically loses seats during the first midterm of a new administration.

Compounding that is polling that has shown a slow decline in Biden’s approval rating, ultimately taking him just below 50 percent, amid uncertainty over the pandemic, its economic fallout, a border crisis and aggressive messaging over culture war issues like critical race theory.

But operatives say that the fumbling of the evacuation in Afghanistan, while alarming, makes for a political environment that is all the more favorable for Republicans.

“I think compared to where we were earlier this year, in January or February, I think things look much rosier. It’s not guaranteed to continue on that trajectory, but I think most Republicans are feeling optimistic right now,” said one GOP strategist working on Senate races.

“We still have a long road to run, but now as recruitment is kind of in full swing, these developments happening could very well be, I don’t want to say decisive, but play a role in getting major candidates off the sidelines.”

The increased recruitment hopes come at a crucial time for Republicans heading into the midterms.

The party is optimistic about its chances to take back the House but is facing a steeper climb in flipping control of the 50-50 Senate.

While Republicans need to net just one seat to win the upper chamber, they’ve thus far failed to recruit widely known contenders in several marquee races.

The GOP is still hankering for New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) to jump into his state’s Senate race against Sen. Maggie Hassan (D), while some are also pushing former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) to take on Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly (D).

“I think people want a well-established brand to run, and there are some well-established brands,” another Republican strategist working on Senate races said. “There are certainly some folks in those states that if they ran, I think people in Washington, especially, would breathe a sigh of relief over having them in. And those candidates are not yet in.”

To be sure, it’s not clear how much the Afghanistan withdrawal will play over a year from now when voters’ ballots are cast. Domestic issues have typically driven people to the polls in recent cycles amid a pileup of issues like health care, economic woes and more.

But the prospect of being able to seize on a foreign policy issue of such magnitude could be appealing to contenders in key races given that any marginal advantage could make the difference in a close state.

“We’ll see how foreign policy plays out in a midterm election, it’s kind of yet to be seen, especially how far out we are,” one GOP official told The Hill.

But, the source added, “I think if you are Chris Sununu, if … you’re Ducey, I think you are seeing this play out and you’re like, ‘OK, this might be a good time to make the jump,’ because those are purple places that if you can get a couple of point swing, they should be able to walk in pretty nicely.”

Scoring some top-tier recruits this early in the midterm cycle could pay dividends for Republicans, allowing candidates to expand their runways to build up campaign coffers and establish their messaging.

“It’s hard to do, but the earlier you can show those signs of the national environment, the better you help your case,” Republican strategist Doug Heye said of the party’s efforts to woo candidates to get off the sidelines.

“Come Labor Day,” he added, “this should be the perfect time for Republicans to jump in with both feet.”

The recruitment opportunity for Republicans comes as Democrats face a daunting midterm cycle and recruitment struggles of their own. While the party boasts high-profile incumbents and challengers in marquee Senate races, Democrats have been hit with stinging retirements in key House seats as they prepare to protect an ultra-thin majority in the lower chamber.

Among the most recent Democrats to announce their retirement was Rep. Ron Kind, who represents a swing district in Wisconsin. While his departure sent Democrats worrying over their midterm chances, it caused Republicans to rejoice.

“One, it helps with recruitment,” the GOP official said of the current political environment. “And the second piece is it’s also moving Democrats to retire.”

“I don’t imagine he’s really the last one either,” the person added, referencing Kind.

Still, it’s no sure thing that Republicans will get the candidates they desire.

For one, some candidates might not want to jump into the midterm fray in a Republican Party that’s still riven with divisions over the role of former President Trump or leave cushy jobs to get into a crowded and brutal primary.

For instance, Ducey has been berated by Trump and the grassroots for accepting the results of the 2020 election showing Biden winning Arizona, and Sununu, who comes from a storied political family, would likely be able to hold onto the governorship for as long as he wants.

On top of that, any candidate will face an avalanche of attack ads from Democrats, including claims of hypocrisy after Trump backed an earlier timetable for withdrawing from Afghanistan and rebukes over the former president’s role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Many potential GOP Senate candidates are refusing to run because they know they can’t beat the strong Democratic Senators who are delivering for their states — and because they’d face a barrage of damaging attacks from Trump and his allies,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Jazmin Vargas said in a statement. “Across the Senate map Republicans are facing a series of nasty and divisive primaries, and now it looks like they are starting to openly panic about the poor quality of their candidates.”  

“Republicans have zero credibility on issues of national security. This is the party whose leader, former President Trump, invited the Taliban to Washington and repeatedly voted to block investigations into the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol,” added Chris Taylor, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

However, it is precisely because of the fierce opposition Democrats are expected to put up that Republicans say it is crucial they need to nail their recruitment efforts.

Besides searching for a big name in states like Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire, Republicans have yet to also field a crowd-clearer in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, which have two seats being vacated by Republicans. It’s also still unclear if Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson (R) will run for a third term.

“There’s no guarantee we’re going to hold on to all the Republican seats that are open,” warned veteran Republican strategist Bob Heckman. “We still don’t have a top-level candidate in Pennsylvania, for example.”

“I think that there’s a chance we’ll lose one or two of the Republican seats, but I think we got a good chance of picking up one or two of the Democrat seats. And it wouldn’t surprise me if it goes either way, if we wind up with 51 or 52 or if we wind up holding at 50,” he added. “None of that would surprise me.”

Tags 2022 2022 midterm elections Afghanistan Arizona Chris Sununu Coronavirus COVID-19 David Perdue David Purdue Donald Trump Doug Ducey Georgia Joe Biden Maggie Hassan Mark Kelly mask mandates New Hampshire Raphael Warnock Ron Johnson Ron Kind Wisconsin

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