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2024 presidential contenders amplify high-stakes battle for control of Congress

Former President Donald Trump (left) speaks at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 and President Joe Biden speaks outside Independence Hall, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia.
Associated Press/Mary Altaffer/Evan Vucci
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sept. 3, 2022 and President Joe Biden speaks outside Independence Hall on Sept. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia.

There likely won’t be formal announcements until next year, but 2024 presidential hopefuls are already busy on the campaign trail testing their messages and collecting IOUs from midterm candidates.

No 2024 candidate has more on the line than President Joe Biden. Democratic performance in November elections — especially in battleground states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona — will elevate or depress the president’s prospects in two years. There are competitive gubernatorial and senatorial contests this year in all of these states.

The 2022 GOP gubernatorial candidates in Arizona and Pennsylvania could have a significant impact on the outcome of a 2024 presidential race. Republican gubernatorial candidates Kari Lake and Tom Mastriano both deny the legitimacy of Biden’s 2020 presidential victory. If they win, they could make it difficult in two years for the president to secure the electoral votes of those states, even if he collects the most votes.

Midterm elections are normally referendums on presidential performance and that would a problem for Democrats. Biden’s approval ratings have improved over the last few months, but they are still underwater.

Fortunately for Democrats, former President Donald Trump’s refusal to leave the spotlight has altered the traditional dynamic. Trump’s legal problems and the congressional investigation into his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection have put him under the microscope and deflected attention away from Biden. Although other 2024 GOP White House hopefuls are emerging, Trump has made no secret of his interest in running again.

Biden is more popular than Trump and that helps Democrats in the midterm battle between for dominance between the two presidents. What should have been a referendum on Biden has morphed into a choice between the incumbent and his scandal-plagued predecessor. Biden has often said: Don’t judge me against the almighty, judge me against the alternative. That is especially true when the alternative to Biden is Trump.

Trump has compromised the GOP effort in other ways. His handpicked candidates for the U.S. Senate, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and J.D. Vance in Ohio have all struggled in races where the Republican Party once had golden opportunities. Walker’s recent troubles could end GOP hopes for taking control of the Senate.

The former president demonstrated that he still has enough mojo with primary voters to nominate his favorites — but his power over the general electorate might not be strong enough to get them over the finish line next month. Trump could put the final nail in the GOP coffin if he follows through on his threat to announce his presidential candidacy before Election Day.

Another GOP presidential possibility who has made a big mark on the midterm elections is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

He is running hard to become the GOP standard bearer in 2024 and stop Trump from winning a second term in the White House. The governor wants to position himself as an aggressive conservative without the ex-president’s legal and personal baggage. DeSantis is confident enough to travel widely across the nation to campaign for GOP midterm hopefuls even though he has a tough reelection fight of his own against former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (D).

DeSantis may have abused his power when he used vulnerable migrants as political pawns when he lured them, reportedly under false pretenses, from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, prompting a criminal investigation and class-action lawsuit. It was a tawdry political stunt that Trump would have been proud of. It helped Republican candidates focus the national conversation on immigration, which is an essential ingredient in his party’s midterm hopes.

DeSantis’ national visibility and travel indicate that he is ready to tackle Trump. The governor can expect a boatload of company in the presidential primary field if legal problems keep Trump from making another presidential bid. Then you might see Republicans like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley vying for the Republican nomination.

Biden recently told civil rights activist Al Sharpton that he intended to run for reelection in two years. That might cool the jets of several Democrats who would welcome the chance to run in 2024 — if Biden does not.

If the president steps aside, there would be a wide Democratic field.

A Democratic nominee race without the incumbent could include alums of his administrations, Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom might be contenders. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ro Khanna of California could fight for the support of the progressive wing of the party. Stacey Abrams of Georgia and Beto O’Rourke in Texas would be presidential players if they win their races for governor this year.

Presidential contenders have amplified the high-stakes battle for control of Congress. We will know more about the identity and potential of would-be presidential contenders as soon as the midterm votes are cast and counted. Then the real fun begins!

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. His podcast, “Deadline D.C. with Brad Bannon,” airs on Periscope TV and the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter: @BradBannon

Tags 2020 election 2022 midterm elections 2024 election Donald Trump Joe Biden Politics Ron DeSantis

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