USA Today: “In the past week alone, prominent Republicans – including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and Trump’s own former vice president, Mike Pence – have pushed back on the ex-president, especially after allies persuaded the party organization to censure two GOP lawmakers over a Jan. 6 investigation.”
“Recent polls show a softening of Trump’s numbers, though he remains the top-rated Republican and is certainly the most well-funded.”
“The result could split the Republican party, with ever more fervent Trump followers on one side and those disenchanted by the former president on the other, complicating GOP efforts to take back control of Congress and pass their own policy priorities.”
Politico: “The ability of the committees of dead politicians to continue paying out money highlights how donations from political supporters can find their way to entities, causes, and individuals far removed from the candidate’s election. Some lawmakers have introduced legislation to limit the time in which and how such money can be spent.”
“But, in the absence of congressional action, experts said the money in a dead politician’s campaign committee can be used with very few guardrails.”
ARKANSAS U.S. SENATOR. Arkansas Patriots Fund, a super PAC that received $1 million back in October from conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, is spending close to $900,000 on an opening ad campaign attacking Sen. John Boozman and promoting former football player Jake Bequette ahead of the May Republican primary.
The spot begins with a narrator bemoaning, “Democrats are destroying our country. Too many Republicans are too weak to stop them.” While the announcer doesn’t mention Boozman by name, that claim is followed with a picture of the incumbent with the caption “RINO REPUBLICANS TOO WEAK.” (Despite that Trumpesque not-sentence, the senator is actually Trump’s endorsed candidate.) The narrator then highlights Bequette’s time playing for the University of Arkansas and as a “championship-winning Patriot,” before praising his subsequent service in Iraq as an Army Ranger.
Bequette did very much have a successful stint as a defensive end in college through the 2011 season, but his time with New England was far from illustrious. After competing in a mere eight games total over two seasons, he was put on the practice squad in 2014 and didn’t play in the 2015 Super Bowl, though he still got a ring after his team won the game. Nathan Gonzales recently wrote a piece taking a look at whether Bequette (and by extension his allies) really had the right to say he won the championship, but found little agreement.
Texas Rep. Colin Allred, a Democrat whose time with the Tennessee Titans included a stint on their practice squad, diplomatically said, “Practice squad players are considered a full member of the team. He was on the team. That’s something to be proud of.” But when Allred was asked if he’d call himself a Super Bowl winner if he was in Bequette’s position, the congressman responded, “I wouldn’t say that if I was on the practice squad.” One unidentified “former Super Bowl-winning player” who Gonzales said was “not involved in politics” was nicer, though. “Practice squad guys get rings,” this player said, adding, “He was a part of it even though he wasn’t on the field.”
What’s not up for debate, however, is that Boozman went into the new year with a huge financial advantage. The incumbent outraised Bequette $1.2 million to $275,000 during the fourth quarter, and he ended December with a $3.5 million to $410,000 cash-on-hand lead. Boozman hasn’t begun airing TV commercials himself yet, but AdImpact reports that his first buy is set to begin Feb. 26.
CONNECTICUT U.S. SENATOR. Republican fundraiser Leora Levy, who served as Donald Trump’s ambassador to Chile, announced Tuesday that she would take on Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal in this very blue state. Her only prior run for office appears to have been last year, when Levy sought the GOP nod in a special election for a state Senate seat, but the party’s nominating convention selected another candidate. Levy joins an August primary that includes former state House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who may have thought she’d avoid a serious nomination fight when she decided to run for the Senate rather than for governor.
MISSOURI U.S. SENATOR. Rep. Jason Smith, who was the last major Republican who still appeared to be undecided about entering the race to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt, announced Wednesday that he would instead stay in the House.
Smith used the occasion to denounce how “many politicians are trying to climb their way up the ladder instead of making real change,” though the congressman himself had devoted close to a year towards mulling whether he wanted to get higher on that ladder himself. You’ll need to decide for yourself if that line was also intended as a shot at Josh Hawley, who ran ads during his 2016 bid for attorney general decrying “career politicians just climbing the ladder, using one office to get another” two years before he won Missouri’s other Senate seat.
While Smith is staying out of the August primary, plenty of others have been raising money for what will be an expensive fight. The GOP candidates’ fourth quarter numbers are below:
- former Gov. Eric Greitens: $460,000 raised, $290,000 cash-on-hand
- State Attorney General Eric Schmitt: $455,000 raised, $1.3 million cash-on-hand
- Rep. Vicky Hartzler: $425,000 raised, $1.8 million cash-on-hand
- Rep. Billy Long: $220,000 raised, additional $250,000 self-funded, $575,000 cash-on-hand
- State Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz: $170,000 raised, additional $1 million self-funded, $1.2 million cash-on-hand
- Attorney Mark McCloskey: $85,000 raised, $100,000 cash-on-hand
McCloskey, who has also taken last place in every released poll that’s even included him, also had his law license placed on a one-year probation by the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday for having “committed a misdemeanor offense involving moral turpitude.” The state’s highest court didn’t elaborate, though it likely was related to a 2020 incident where McCloskey and his wife, a fellow lawyer who received the same sanction, confronted peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors with guns.
On the Democratic side, Marine veteran Lucas Kunce outraised former state Sen. Scott Sifton $705,000 to $156,000 and held a $810,000 to $156,000 cash-on-hand lead. Missouri backed Donald Trump 57-41, but Democrats are hoping they’ll have an opening especially if the disgraced Greitens is their opponent.
ALABAMA U.S. SENATOR. Six Republicans are facing off in a closely watched primary to succeed their fellow Republican, retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, in this dark red state. Rep. Mo Brooks, who helped foment the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, has endorsements from Donald Trump and the Club for Growth, while Shelby is pulling for his one-time chief of staff, former Business Council of Alabama head Katie Boyd Britt.
Army veteran Mike Durant, who was held as a prisoner of war in Somalia for 11 days in 1993 after his helicopter was shot out of the sky in the incident later depicted in the book and film “Blackhawk Down,” doesn’t have the same big-named allies, but he’s using his personal wealth to get his name out. Three little-known Republicans are also competing in a race that Democrats aren’t seriously targeting.
While Brooks looked like the frontrunner after winning the support of his party’s supreme leader, even Trump has reportedly been complaining that he’s running a weak campaign. One of the biggest gripes about the congressman for months has been his underwhelming fundraising, and the fourth quarter numbers only led to a fresh round of skepticism about his abilities:
- Britt: $1.2 million raised, $4.1 million cash-on-hand
- Brooks: $380,000 raised, $2 million cash-on-hand
- Durant: $165,000 raised, additional $4.2 million self-funded, $2.5 million cash-on-hand
The Club has already spent $1.4 million to boost Brooks, and it recently released a poll putting him in the lead with 35% as Durant led Britt 30-25 for second. However, that’s a big drop from its October survey, which was done before Durant entered the race, which gave Brooks a dominant 55-12 advantage over Britt. Shelby, for his part, reportedly plans to send $5 million of his campaign funds to a pro-Britt super PAC.
INDIANA U.S. SENATOR. Even though the Hoosier State has hosted several competitive and expensive Senate races over the last decade, Republican incumbent Todd Young is the overwhelming favorite to win a second term in a state that Donald Trump took 57-41. Young outraised his most prominent Democratic foe, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, $1.5 million to $75,000 during the fourth quarter, and he ended December with a $6.2 million to $50,000 cash-on-hand lead.
NORTH DAKOTA U.S. SENATOR. Republican state Rep. Rick Becker, a far-right lawmaker with a history of trying to undermine public health during the pandemic, launched a long-shot primary campaign against Sen. John Hoeven on Sunday. Becker, who previously was best known for trying to curtail the use of surveillance drones by police, campaigned for governor in 2016 but dropped out before the primary following a disappointing showing at the state party convention. There is no indication that Hoeven, who ended 2021 with $3.1 million on-hand, is vulnerable in the June nomination contest.
OHIO U.S. SENATOR. You know things are bad when your own allies are talking about how your poll numbers are in a “precipitous decline,” but that’s exactly where venture capitalist J.D. Vance finds himself with about three months to go before the Republican primary. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt obtained a 98-page report from Fabrizio Lee for Protect Ohio Values, the super PAC funded by megadonor Peter Thiel, that found the “Hillbilly Elegy” author in fifth place in mid-January with just 9%.
Former state Treasurer Josh Mandel edged out businessman Mike Gibbons 15-14, while former state party chair Jane Timken took a close third with 13%. Vance was even behind businessman Bernie Moreno―a self-funder who has since exited the race―who was at 11%. To make matters worse, Fabrizio Lee’s October poll had Vance trailing Mandel only 19-16.
The pollster was blunt about why Vance could soon be authoring his own political elegy. While the one-time Trump critic has tried to refashion himself as an all-out MAGA champion, Mandel’s allies at the Club for Growth and USA Freedom Fund spent last fall running ads based around 2016 footage of Vance saying, “I’m a Never Trump guy,” as well as a screenshot of him tweeting about his party’s nominee, “My god what an idiot.”
Those attacks seem to have done exactly what they were intended to do: Fabrizio Lee now says that Vance’s “association as a Never Trumper has only grown since November,” and “being anti-Trump is the #1 reason voters do not like Vance.” It adds, “The groups where Vance has improved are those we don’t want him doing better with: Trump disapprovers and moderate/liberals.” The presentation, of course, argued that Vance still had a path, but it didn’t hide how bad things are for him at the moment: “Vance needs a course correction ASAP that will resolidify him as a true conservative. He has a ton of strong messaging to make that happen and he should push it hard.”
ALASKA U.S. SENATOR. State Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson on Wednesday became the first notable Democrat to enter the August top-four primary against the two main Republicans, incumbent Lisa Murkowski and former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Gray-Jackson was elected in 2018 in a blue state Senate seat in Anchorage, a win that made her the second Black woman to ever serve in the chamber, and the Anchorage Daily News says she’s Alaska’s first-ever Black U.S. Senate candidate.
Murkowski, for her part, has enjoyed a huge fundraising advantage over the Trump-endorsed Tshibaka for months, and that very much didn’t change during the fourth quarter. The incumbent outraised Tshibaka $1.4 million to $600,000, and she ended December with a hefty $4.3 million to $635,000 cash-on-hand lead.
MISSOURI GOVERNOR. Conservative radio host Tudor Dixon this week earned an endorsement from Rep. Lisa McClain, whose old 10th District was Donald Trump’s best congressional district in the state. (The new 9th, where McClain is seeking re-election, would have also been Michigan’s reddest under the redrawn congressional map.) Another congressman, Bill Huizenga, backed Dixon a few weeks ago even though she’s struggled to raise a credible amount of money.
WISCONSIN GOVERNOR. Republican state Rep. Timothy Ramthun, who is one of the loudest spreaders of the Big Lie in Wisconsin, filed paperwork Thursday for a potential campaign for governor the day after he took down a campaign website that, for a few hours, said he was running. We’ll presumably know for sure Saturday after Ramthun’s “special announcement” at a high school auditorium in Kewaskum, a small community to the north of Milwaukee, though the local superintendent said Tuesday that the space had yet to be reserved. (Ramthun also is a member of that school board.)
PENNSYLVANIA 18TH CD. Last week, state Rep. Summer Lee earned an endorsement from the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council, which is made up of three prominent labor groups, ahead of the May Democratic primary for this open seat. TribLIVE.com notes that two of the unions took opposite sides in last year’s Democratic primary for mayor of Pittsburgh: SEIU Healthcare supported Ed Gainey’s victorious campaign, while SEIU 32 BJ stuck with incumbent Bill Peduto. (SEIU Local 668, the third member of the State Council, doesn’t appear to have gotten involved in that contest.)
Lee, who also has the backing of now-Mayor Gainey, did, however, get outraised during her first quarter in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Mike Doyle. Attorney Steve Irwin, who is a former Pennsylvania Securities Commission head, outpaced Lee $340,000 to $270,000, and he ended December with a $295,000 to $200,000 cash-on-hand lead. Another candidate, law professor Jerry Dickinson, began running months before Doyle announced his departure in October, but he took in just $120,000 for the quarter and had $160,000 to spend. Nonprofit executive Stephanie Fox also kicked off her campaign in December, but she didn’t report raising any money for the fourth quarter.
Redistricting is still in progress in Pennsylvania, but there’s little question this will remain a safely blue Pittsburgh-based seat when all is said and done. What we know for sure, though, is that, because the state is dropping from 18 to 17 congressional districts, all of these candidates will be running for a constituency that has a different number than Doyle’s existing one.