The contests for control of the U.S. senate in 2024
are shaping up to be very different from those which
took place in 2022.
First of all, there are many more Democrat incumbent
seats than Republican seats in play, more than
twice as many. Second, virtually all the vulnerable
incumbents are Democrats. Third, it is a presidential
election year. Fourth, the national Republican
Senate Campaign Committee (RSCC) is actively
recruiting its challenger candidates in battleground
elections. (In 2022, the RSCC mostly deferred to the
individual state campaigns — resulting often in GOP
nominees who were flawed or weak in the general
election, and thereby lost.)
Republicans were overconfident in 2022, and were
disappointed with many results, including losing
control, albeit narrowly, of the U.S. senate when they
had anticipated picking up 2-4 seats. In fact, they
Reasons for this were not limited to nominating poor
candidates. Democrats in 2018-20 had modifed
election laws and procedures to their advantage,
including expanded early and mail-in voting,
so-called ballot harvesting, and relaxed voter I.D.
rules. In the post-pandemic era, election day had
become election month, and Democrats took full
advantage of the new rules.
In close races, Democrats also were clearly more
aggressive, attacking their opponents and playing
Senator Stephen Daines of Montana, the RSCC
chair, has signaled a profoundly more hands-on
approach than his 2022 predecessor, and is already
deeply involved in recruiting challengers in the
battleground contests. This has delayed the
selection of likely nominees in several races, e.g.,
Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Delaware and
Virginia; but has produced likely better outcomes
in Pennsylvania, Montana, Michigan, Nevada and
West Virginia. Daines has also promised
encouraging GOP voter participation in “election
month” (including encouraging mail-in voting and
ballot harvesting). Lastly, Daines has planned for
much expanded RSCC 2024 opposition research.
In 2022, several GOP senate candidates’
nominations were enabled by endorsements by
former President Trump, and proved unable to
win in November. This cycle, Mr. Trump is himself
running for president, and so far appears to be
mostly letting Senator Daines (who has endorsed
him) and the RSCC do the recruiting.
One major challenge facing the GOP has not yet
been met. Democrats in 2020, 2022 and so far in
the 2024 cycle, are significantly outfundraising
Republicans in competitive senate and house
races. Part of this, of course, is that most
vulnerable senators are incumbents — who
traditionally have an easier and longer time to
raise campaign funds. Democrats also in recent
years have attracted affluent voters and donors,
while Republicans have attracted working class
and less affluent voters and donors. But Democrats
also initiated Act Blue, a grass roots fundraising
effort which has been very successful. The GOP
has so far failed to match this.
Because political campaign fundraising has
become so important, and Republicans remain at
a disadvantage in this, the 2024 prospects for
the GOP retaking control of the U.S. senate
remain in doubt. Delay in deciding their likely
nominees also means less time to raise money
and promote the campaigns for challengers.
Uncertainty in the presidential race also hangs
over several likely competitive contests.
President Biden’s seemingly certain renomination
is becoming less and less likely. Some incumbent
senators from his party might be drawn into that
race if Mr. Biden retires. Although Mr. Trump has a
big lead now in the polls, his nomination is not at
all certain. A presidential race without one or both
of these current frontrunners could produce a very
different campaign chemistry in 2024, and affect
senate race outcomes.
Copyright (c) 2023 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.