Analysis: The GOP’s 2024 Blueprint to a Majority in the U.S. Senate

Jan 2, 2024 | Political News

Republicans appear to be in a strong position to take back control of the Senate in 2024, where they only need to flip two seats, with numerous vulnerable Democrats set to appear on the ballot amid a contentious presidential election.

West Virginia provides Senate Republicans with their best chance, as Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin decided not to seek reelection in the state that went for former President Donald Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020. Other pick-up opportunities are in red states like Montana and Ohio, as well as presidential battlegrounds like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada.

Analysis: The GOP’s 2024 Blueprint to a Majority in the U.S. Senate

 Arizona Sun Times Staff

 

by Mary Lou Masters

 

Republicans appear to be in a strong position to take back control of the Senate in 2024, where they only need to flip two seats, with numerous vulnerable Democrats set to appear on the ballot amid a contentious presidential election.

West Virginia provides Senate Republicans with their best chance, as Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin decided not to seek reelection in the state that went for former President Donald Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020. Other pick-up opportunities are in red states like Montana and Ohio, as well as presidential battlegrounds like Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada.

“First, I do think we shouldn’t underestimate the power of incumbency. Senate incumbents are doing quite well these days and the best targets, even in red states, won’t be pushovers. They will have unlimited money,” Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist and veteran of numerous campaigns, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “That having been said, I think [West Virginia] is obviously gone for the Democrats, meaning at worst the Senate is 50-50. That puts pressure on Dems to hold all of these: Ohio, Montana, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Nevada. Plus the Vice Presidency.”

“That’s a great opening hand for the GOP in this cycle,” Jennings added.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, has been largely focused on the races in West Virginia, Montana and Ohio, all of which Trump won in 2020. Additionally, the group is targeting five swing states that President Joe Biden won by 3 points or less — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin and Nevada.

Trump is currently leading in the RealClearPolitics average for a hypothetical rematch against Biden in ArizonaMichiganNevada and Pennsylvania, while the two are tied in Wisconsin.

After a failed red wave in 2022, the NRSC decided to get involved in the primary process and focus on recruiting candidates this cycle.

Jon McHenry, a GOP polling analyst and vice president at North Star Opinion Research, warned that while Republicans “have a very favorable map,” their “candidates matter.”

“Republicans threw away winnable races in the last few years with candidates who were less appealing in the general election than they were with a populist base,” McHenry told the DCNF.

The NRSC has recruited Republicans in Montana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada and West Virginia, and is currently encouraging one to run in Wisconsin.

West Virginia

Manchin, who has held the seat since 2010, is forcing Senate Democrats to go on defense in 2024. The senator is weighing a third-party presidential bid, and could run on centrist organization No Labels’ “Unity Ticket” next year.

Following his announcement, The Cook Political Report quickly switched Manchin’s seat from the “Toss Up” column to “Solid R.”

Republican Gov. Jim Justice is the NRSC-endorsed candidate, who also has Trump’s backing, and raised $1.5 million for the race this year, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Rep. Alex Mooney is also vying for the GOP nomination, but has raised less funds and has been polling behind Justice.

A Research America poll released Sept. 1 found Justice leading Mooney in the GOP primary by 30 points.

Montana

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is seeking a fourth term, and has already raised a significant amount of cash.

The senator brought in over $15 million this year, and currently has $13 million cash on hand. The NRSC recruited former Navy SEAL and businessman Tim Sheehy for the seat, who has already brought in $2.9 million with $1.1 million in campaign cash.

GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale, who ran against Tester and lost by 3.5 points in 2018, is considering another bid. Rosendale’s congressional campaign has raised $904,000 this year and currently has $1.7 million in hard dollars.

Earlier polling suggested Rosendale would win in a Republican primary by double digits, but a recent Co/Efficient poll found the former Navy SEAL up by 8 points for a head-to-head matchup. An Emerson College poll released in mid-October indicated Tester would beat Sheehy by 4 points, but a J.L. Partners survey from two months before found the senator losing by several points to both Republicans.

The Cook Political Report recently switched Tester’s seat from “Lean D” to “Toss Up,” joining other Senate races in Ohio and Arizona.

“This is the cycle where they finally beat Jon Tester,” said McHenry. “His repeated votes with Joe Biden will undo him this time around, especially if Biden is the Democratic nominee.”

Tester votes with Biden 91% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight’s estimate.

Ohio

Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who has held his seat since 2007, is running in what could be his toughest race yet.

The NRSC is remaining neutral in the primary that is chock-full of prominent Republicans — businessman Bernie Moreno, who recently drew Trump’s backing, State Sen. Matt Dolan and Secretary of State Frank LaRose. Moreno and Dolan both ran in the 2022 Republican primary for the seat now held by GOP Sen. J.D. Vance.

The race has already become quite expensive as the three GOP candidates attempt to compete with Brown’s fundraising, totaling to $14.4 million this year with $11.2 million in the bank. Dolan has brought in $8.8 million compared to Moreno‘s $6.4 million, while LaRose, who got into the race most recently, has raised just over $1 million.

McHenry argued that the GOP should be able to pick up this seat, but cautioned that “the candidate really does matter.”

“Some of these states are just tough for Dems in a presidential cycle. Ohio and Montana for instance,” said Jennings. “Their states are obviously going to be tough for Biden. And they may not be able to escape the vortex even with unlimited money.”

Arizona

Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who left the Democratic Party in 2022, has yet to decide whether she’s running for a second term.

Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego has already launched a bid for the seat, while several Republicans are vying for the nomination, including Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and former GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake.

The NRSC hasn’t endorsed in the Arizona race, but the chairman has commended Lake for being “one of the most talented politicians we have running in the 2024 cycle.”

If Sinema runs, and Gallego and Lake are their respective party nominees, a contentious three-way race would ensue. Some polling has shown Gallego winning in such a scenario, while other surveys show Lake ahead.

Regardless, the polling largely finds Sinema coming in third, according to FiveThirtyEight’s survey compilation.

McHenry believes this is another strong pickup opportunity for the Republicans, as Sinema could split the Democratic vote, he told the DCNF.

Pennsylvania

Democratic Sen. Bob Casey is running for a fourth term in the upper chamber.

NRSC-recruit David McCormick is the only Republican in the race. The former hedge-fund CEO ran for the Senate GOP nomination in 2022 and narrowly lost to Dr. Mehmet Oz, who now-Democratic Sen. John Fetterman went on to beat.

Casey has already raised $7.7 million this year, and has $7.4 million cash on hand. McCormick’s fundraising numbers are not yet available.

Polling largely suggests Casey would beat McCormick in the general election. The seat is characterized by The Cook Political Report as in the “Lean D” column, along with other races in Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin.

Democratic voters in the state have been leaving the party in droves for the GOP, according to voter registration data for 2023. Over 35,000 Democratic voters in Pennsylvania flipped Republican this year, compared to only 15,622 in the GOP who switched sides.

“There’s also a decent chance of winning in Pennsylvania as the GOP registration there is picking up strongly and Dave McCormick will be a strong candidate against the weakened career politician Bob Casey, Jr,” Mark Weaver, a national veteran Republican strategist, told the DCNF.

Michigan

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has held the seat for over two decades, is retiring after 2024.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and has reportedly expressed concern over sharing the ballot with Biden.

While several Republicans are vying for the seat, former GOP Rep. Mike Rogers is the NRSC’s pick. Former GOP Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump in 2021, and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig are also in the running.

Polling indicates Slotkin would currently beat all of the Republican candidates, but the most recent survey found the margins closest against both Rogers and Craig at 2 points.

“Michigan is one to watch. A solid Republican candidate should win that race with Trump (or even better, Nikki Haley) on the ballot against Joe Biden,” said McHenry. “Joe Biden’s support for Israel is the right thing morally and in a national security perspective, but Michigan is one of the states that it might hurt him politically as a swing state with a substantial Arab-American population.”