The Sweep: Campaigning in the Biden Era

A quick look back and an early look forward to 2021, 2022, and a hint of 2024.

This time of an election cycle is like when you first put that kettle of water on the stove to boil. It’s going to take a while for anything really to happen, but sometimes it’s fun to stare into the water and see where those tiny little bubbles first start to form. Or it is for some of us. 

Next week, we will take a nice, long dive into the emerging fault lines in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. After all, we only have roughly 1,102 days until the Iowa Caucus! Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley are throwing shade at one another, Sen. Tom Cotton is staking out some space far from the madding crowd, and we hear Vice President Mike Pence is keeping some of his current staff on payroll. 

And last week, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley announced the creation of the Stand for America PAC, saying that it will be “laser-focused on the 2022 midterms.” I’m sure it will. After all, helping elect candidates who can endorse you later is a tried and true way to spend your time before a presidential run. Just ask Mitt Romney, who in 2010 visited 30 states and raised and spent more than $5 million though his PAC to support 188 congressional candidates, two dozen Senate candidates and 20 Republicans running for governor, before clinching the Republican nomination 18 months later. 

Money raised into a federal PAC can also be used to get the most highly coveted campaign operatives on payroll early. Oh, and did I mention that any money that happens to be left over in that PAC after the midterms can be rolled over into a presidential campaign? 

But like I said, we’ve got another week until we have to start counting down until 2024. 

The Voters

We are but one day away from the beginning of the Biden administration. In the world of campaigns that means two things: primary season has begun, and Republican candidates will be trying to determine how closely to align themselves with the outgoing leader of their party. 

The candidates who most often win are the ones who can appeal to voters where they are—not where they wish they were. As a former boss once told me, “you can’t convince someone of something they know isn’t so”—even if it is. 

With that depressing truism in mind, these numbers put together from Axios last week tell us more about where Republican voters are and where a lot of Republican candidates will be going in the next cycle:

  • Two-thirds of House Republicans voted to decertify election results—in the hours after an insurrection

  • 93% of House Republicans voted against impeachment 

  • 64% of Republicans said they support Trump’s recent behavior

  • 57% of Republicans said Trump should be the 2024 GOP candidate

  • Only 17% think he should be removed from office--even fewer in the Washington Post-ABC News poll

  • 36% call themselves “Trump Republicans”

Perhaps the most relevant number to would-be future Republican candidates: 57 percent of Republicans and those that lean Republican want Trump to remain a major political figure after he leaves office. 

(For current office holders, 59 percent say that they want their congressional leaders to “stand up to Biden on issues important to GOP voters, even it its harder to address critical problems facing the country.”)

And yet despite all of the numbers above, one number stood in stark contrast. Pew Research Center has a running poll on presidential approval, which means we can compare numbers over time--always more reliable than a stand alone snapshot. As the Pew folks put it:

Throughout most of his presidency, Trump’s job rating remained more stable than those of his predecessors; it never surpassed 45% or dipped below 36%. But his job approval now stands at just 29%, down 9 percentage points since August and the lowest of his presidency. Much of the decline has come among Republicans and GOP leaners:  Currently, 60% approve of his job performance; 77% approved in August.

Senate 2022 Recruitment

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida just took over as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He will be responsible for recruiting candidates to challenge Democrats in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, and New Hampshire and to run in the open seats in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Nothing will be more important to winning back a majority in 2022 than who Republicans find to run in those races and whether they can protect them from bruising primary fights along the way. 

Plus, it’s a big fundraising job at a time when a lot of donors—especially the corporate ones—are shying away from the GOP. AT&T, Nike, Comcast, Dow, Marriott, Walmart, Verizon and several more companies vowed not to contribute to any senator who voted in favor of the objections to the electoral counts for Arizona or Pennsylvania on January 6th. Corporations don’t like insurrection talk, sure, but they also don’t like losers. And the Republicans just lost control of the Senate after losing Georgia with two of the most winnable races on the map in 2020. 

But Scott is no political dummy—he’s won statewide office in Florida three times—and he voted against certifying Pennsylvania’s Electoral College slate even after the riot at the Capitol. It’s not hard to read that as a sign for where he thinks the votes will be in 2022. 

How the GOP Lost Georgia

The double loss in Georgia, which cost Republicans control of the Senate for at least the first two years of the Biden Administration, will be a driving topic of conversation through the next election cycle. There may continue to be a lot of different theories about why Republicans faltered in a former stronghold—false election rigging claims, Trump not being on the ballot, Georgia officials who didn’t back Trump sufficiently, etc. But there can’t be much doubt about how they lost them, as this helpful graphic from the Washington Post makes clear: More Republicans than Democrats who voted in November stayed home in January.

New York Mayor’s Race

Andrew Yang is set to announce his candidacy for the Big Apple’s biggest job any day now. During his presidential race, Yang received fawning coverage from a lot of media outlets—my favorite was from Wired, “Andrew Yang Is Not Full of S--t”—as candidates with no shot often do. 

And while Election Day in Gotham is still 10 months away, Yang and his team must have been taken aback to learn that the honeymoon is over, because this isn’t the headline you want potential donors to be reading on the eve of your announcement. From Politico: “Andrew Yang left New York as COVID surged. Now he wants to be mayor.” And as a former communications operative, you don’t need me to tell you what this line means: “His team declined to provide a breakdown of how much time he spent in New York City last year.” 

As hit pieces go, however, the bark may be worse than the bite. Plenty of New Yorkers may be willing to overlook that a guy wanted more room for his kids—including a son who has special needs—during the pandemic if his #MATH checks out. The better question might be why anyone would want to have their second home near Poughkeepsie, of all places.  

New Jersey Governor’s Race

An interesting story emerged last week about Doug Steinhardt, “a pro-Trump candidate for governor of New Jersey” who “abruptly dropped his month-long campaign” citing “unforeseen professional obligations.” Frankly, someone running for governor intends to end their professional obligations—so it’s a pretty big red flag when that’s your stated reason for dropping out. Of course, the “dropping out to spend more time with my family” statement now connotes lord-only-knows-what combination of sexual improprieties, so I understand why a candidate might want to try the professional line instead. 

Even so, Politico found some in New Jersey wondering whether his campaign wasn’t the first political casualty of January 6th for a candidate that had tied himself closely to Trump.

This leaves former Assemblymember Jack Ciattarelli as the GOP’s likely nominee. Ciattarelli “was a featured speaker at a recent ‘Stop the Steal’ rally that followed the president’s false claims of campaign fraud” and blamed the ensuing violence on “‘political leaders in both parties’ who ‘share responsibility for hyper-partisan rhetoric.’”

Bear in mind, New Jersey—despite electing Chris Christie twice—“has a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, hasn’t elected a Republican U.S. senator in nearly 50 years and has voted blue in every presidential election since 1992.”

Which is all to say, The Sweep most likely won’t be spending a lot more space on this race unless something changes.