On Tuesday Ohio will kick off a month’s worth of Republican primaries that will not only set the tone for the November midterm elections but also give former President Trump a chance to test the GOP’s fealty to him.
‘It’s clear he wants to play some sort of kingmaker role in the primaries,’ veteran GOP strategist Douglas Heyes told DailyMail.com.
But does the kingmaker’s power trump incumbency and the controversies that surround his chosen ones? The power of his endorsement will be closely watched in the lead-up to 2024, and strategists say he is testing the waters with the midterm elections before potentially launching his own campaign.
But Trump has already had one endorsed candidate drop out in Pennsylvania and yanked his endorsement back from another in Alabama.
‘I think he’s testing out just how much sway he has as he looks toward 2024,’ Republican strategist Ken Spain told DailyMail.com. ‘But I think he is going to find that his endorsement matters less than he thinks it does.’
‘Ultimately candidates matter,’ Spain said. ‘Trump’s endorsement is not a cure-all.’
Spain said that the Trump endorsement mattered more in primaries with crowded fields.
‘It’s probably, you know, proven to be more helpful to JD Vance in Ohio than it has been David Perdue in Georgia or Mo Brooks in Alabama,’ he said.
Here’s what to watch in the upcoming primaries, certain to be a referendum on the former president:
The focus: Inflation, crime and inflation are the victorious talking points before November
Inflation, crime, immigration. That’s what GOP strategists and messaging experts widely agree that Republicans need to stick to emerge victorious in the midterms.
‘If Republicans aren’t talking about inflation, crime and immigration then there than they are conceding the political high ground,’ said Spain.
‘These are the issues that Americans care about,’ said Heyes, a former communications director at the Republican National Committee (RNC), said. ‘Republicans need to stick to these issues and avoid the Washington inside-baseball stuff.
Heyes said that culture war issues like critical race theory and transgender children can differentiate GOP candidates in crowded primaries, but for the general election Republicans need to refocus on price rises, crime spikes and the surge of migrants at the border.
The party not in the White House historically has the advantage in the midterms, but Biden’s approval numbers in the 30s by many polls are sure to create an even bigger problem.
‘Even the White House has not been able to figure out what to do with the President. He’s clearly a drag on the ticket. And aside from fundraising, he’s a net negative everywhere,’ Spain said.
Heyes said that when he was at the RNC, their ‘magic number’ was 46, if President Obama’s polling fell below 46 percent in the 10 days before the election, they predicted they would sweep the House. Republicans picked up 63 seats in the House and took back control in 2010.
‘Republicans should take back the House fairly easily in November, and you know, small margins, but Republicans in the Senate, you know, maybe maybe poised to do so as well,’ said Heyes, ‘But this is where candidates matter.’
On Tuesday Ohio will kick off a month’s worth of Republican primaries that will not only set the tone for the November midterm elections but also give former President Trump a chance to test the GOP’s fealty to him
The impeachment Republicans: Those voted to convict Trump – including Liz Cheney – are on the chopping block
Ten Republicans voted to impeach Trump for incitement of an insurrection in the House – three are now retiring and six face Trump-backed primary challengers.
Rep. David Valadao is the only House Republican to vote for impeachment and not face Trump’s revenge, likely because his seat in California has become increasingly Democratic territory.
One of the most high-profile Trump-endorsed challengers is Harriet Hageman, who is taking on GOP Rep. Liz Cheney. More than 50 House Republicans attended a fundraiser in DC for Hageman, including McCarthy, in a signal of their eagerness tor unseat Cheney.
Reps. Adam Kinzinger, Anthony Gonzalez and John Katko are planning to retire. Reps. Jaime Heurrera Butler, Peter Meijer, Tom Rice, Fred Upton and Dan Newhouse also voted to impeach and will take on Trump-backed challengers
Of the seven Republicans in the Senate who voted for impeachment, only Sen. Lisa Murkowski is up for reelection. Trump has endorsed Kelly Shibaka in that race, and the Alaska Republican Party even turned on Murkowski and did the same.
Ohio: An expensive race testing Trump’s influence – with J.D. Vance having a slight lead over six Republican rivals
Seven candidates are running to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio in the May 3 primary.
Trump sent waves throughout even his own inner circle when he endorsed Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance.
Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whom the former president pardoned and maintains a close relationship with, has endorsed Josh Mandel, the state’s former treasurer who has branded himself as ‘Pro-God, Pro-Guns, Pro-Trump.’
Trump sent waves throughout even his own inner circle when he endorsed Hillbilly Elegy author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance
For Mandel, peddling Trump’s election fraud claims was not enough. ‘Let me say it very clear: I believe this election was stolen from Donald Trump,’ Mandel said last week at a packed church in Cincinnati.
Ohio Republican leaders had pleaded with Trump not to endorse Vance, noting past criticisms that included calling Trump ‘America’s Hitler.’
But no matter to Trump. ‘He’s a guy that said some bad sh*t about me… but you know what? Every one of the others did also,’ Trump said of Vance at a rally in Ohio last week. ‘In fact, if I went by that standard, I don’t think I would have ever endorsed anyone in the country. Ultimately, I put that aside.’
Pennsylvania: Will Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Oz push him over the finish line in a crucial primary
Trump shocked MAGA world by throwing his weight behind Dr. Mehmet Oz, lending a level of legitimacy to the celebrity surgeon’s campaign, and snubbing hedge fund executive David McCormick, who had close ties to his inner circle.
In Pennsylvania, Trump had originally endorsed Sean Parnell for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Pat Toomey, but Parnell pulled out of the race amid abuse allegations from his ex-wife.
Trump then shocked MAGA world by throwing his weight behind Dr. Mehmet Oz, lending a level of legitimacy to the celebrity surgeon’s campaign, and snubbing hedge fund executive David McCormick, who had close ties to his inner circle.
Trump’s domestic policy adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller and longtime communications aide and counselor Hope Hicks had both been working on McCormick’s campaign (Miller dropped McCormick when Trump went for Oz).
McCormick is also married to Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, Dina Powell, and had the backing former Trump campaign adviser David Urban and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who is running for governor in Arkansas.
Oz did not live in Pennsylvania at the time he announced his candidacy and and whose only ties to the state are a stint in college.
MAGA conservatives were quick to point out that Oz previously expressed support for Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationally, and dedicated an episode of his long-running television show to transgender children.
‘You’re not America first. You’re not a conservative. You’re not even from Pennsylvania. Hell no,’ Parnell wrote on Twitter at the time of the announcement.
After scoring the former president’s favor, Oz leaned into election fraud claims in a debate on Monday. ‘We cannot move on,’ he said when asked about the 2020 election.
Polls show Oz and McCormick are in a dead heat.
‘Oz was always going to attract money and star power. We’ll see if that translates into votes,’ said Heyes.
Georgia: Trump’s nemesis Brian Kemp takes on loyal ally David Perdue – who has pushed election fraud claims
Trump may have taken his biggest political risk in Georgia, where he endorsed former Sen. David Perdue to take on Gov. Brian Kemp as revenge for refusing to overturn election results in the Peach State.
‘The endorsement doesn’t seem to be putting a dent in Brian Kemp’s numbers in the gubernatorial primary in Georgia,’ said Spain.
Even after winning Trump’s affection, Perdue trailed Kemp 27 percent to 53 percent in a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll.
Perdue had made election fraud claims front and center of his debate with the current governor on Sunday.
Trump may have taken his biggest political risk in Georgia, where he endorsed former Sen. David Perdue to take on Gov. Brian Kemp as revenge for refusing to overturn election results in the Peach State
‘First off, let me be very clear tonight,’ Perdue began his opening statement, ‘the election in 2020 was rigged and stolen.’
He then blamed gas prices, inflation, immigration issues and ‘the brink of war’ on Kemp for allowing ‘radical Democrats to steal our election.’
Trump has also endorsed Rep. Jody Hice who is in primary race with Georgia sec. of state Brad Raffensperger, who he famously asked to ‘find’ 11,000 votes in a phone call after the race – though polling suggests that race is much closer – the AJC poll pegged Raffensperger at 28 percent and Hice at 26.
In the Senate race, Trump-endorsed former NFL player Herschel Walker has withstood accusations that he threatened his ex-wife’s life and accusations of unpredictable behavior by business associates. Support for Walker, who is challenging Sen. Raphael Warnock, is at 66 percent, his closest GOP opponent being pegged at just 7 percent.
North Carolina : Can Madison Cawthorn overcome his scandals and will Ted Budd take the victory in a crowded field?
In North Carolina, some had predicted the president had miscalculated when he offered his endorsement to Rep. Ted Budd, a little-known House member in a crowded field, taking on even former Gov. Pat McRory.
But polling released this month showed that Budd had taken the lead in the May 17 GOP primary.
‘I’m very proud of that man,’ Trump told a crowd of Budd in Selma, North Carolina this month.
But Trump will be face a bigger test in sticking by Rep. Madison Cawthorn. The 26-year-old Republican has seemingly sabotaged his own campaign in just the past few weeks with a string of splashy comments, scandalous photos and even run-ins with the law.
‘Cawthorn’s problems are being Trump,’ Heyes said. When Trump appeared in North Carolina two weeks ago, he pointedly did not appear on stage with Cawthorn, Heyes noted.
Trump did praise the young congressman at the Selma rally. ‘Man, I love him.’
‘It’s smart politics on Trump’s part,’ veteran political operative and PBS North Carolina host Marc Rotterman told DailyMail.com. ‘It is smart politics alright on the Trump operators. I think that’s I don’t think anybody can discount that.’
Cawthorn’s recent stumbles are easy fodder for his seven primary opponents.
On Tuesday he was cited for trying to bring a handgun through security at Charlotte Airport. Last Friday, Politico published a pair of wild photos with Cawthorn surrounded by women, wearing womens’ lingerie and drinking wine. The photos came after he was chastised by even House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy for claiming that his colleagues had invited him to orgies and done cocaine in front of him.
GOP Sen. Thom Tillis endorsed Cawthorn’s primary opponent, state Sen. Chuck Edwards. ‘On any given day, he’s an embarrassment,’ retiring Sen. Richard Burr said of Cawthorn, though he does not plan to get involved in the primary.
Alabama: How will the red state play out after Trump called Mo Brooks ‘woke’ for saying Republicans should move on from 2020
Trump clawed back his endorsement for Alabama’s Senate seat from Rep. Mo Brooks after Brooks said that it was time to ‘move on’ from the 2020 election.
‘Mo Brooks of Alabama made a horrible mistake recently when he went ‘woke’ and stated, referring to the 2020 Presidential Election Scam, ‘Put that behind you, put that behind you,’ despite the fact that the Election was rife with fraud and irregularities,’ Trump said.
Brooks, a longtime defender of the former president’s election fraud claims, shot back: ‘There’s not anybody in Alabama with a brain larger than the size of a pea who believes that Mo Brooks is a woke liberal.’
But the endorsement decision came just after an Alabama Daily News poll showed Brooks’ numbers tanking – the late March poll showed military veteran Kevin Durant at 34.6 percent, Katie Britt, former chief of staff to retiring Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, at 28.4 percent, the once-undisputed frontrunner at 16.1 percent.
Nebraska: The crowded governor race dominated by groping headlines
Trump defended embattled local businessman Charles Herbster during a Nebraska rally over the weekend as he takes on a run for governor. Herbster has been caught up in a groping scandal.
‘He’s been maligned. He’s been badly maligned and it’s a shame,’ Trump said. ‘That’s why I came out here. I defend people when I know they’re good.’
Less than a week ago Herbster, Trump’s Agriculture and Rural Advisory Committee chair, was accused of sexual assault by Republican state Sen. Julie Slama and seven other women.
Herbster dismissed the allegations, made in the Nebraska Examiner, as a ‘political hit piece,’ but this week three more people told the Examiner they witnessed Herbster groping women at events in 2019 and 2021.
Trump too paid no mind to the allegations. ‘He’s a good man. He was with us from the beginning. He’s been my friend for 30 years, he’s an innocent human being,’ Trump said at the rally, adding that he ‘could have gotten out of’ coming to support Herbster ‘easily.’
Current Gov. Pete Ricketts is term-limited, but nine candidates are running in the GOP primary.
Idaho: Will Trump’s bold move to back the state’s Lieutenant Governor over the incumbent pay off?
In a more under-the-radar race, Trump made a bold and curious move by endorsing Idaho’s lieutenant governor in her bid against the governor. Taking on a sitting governor is one of the most difficult things to do in politics.
Gov. Brad Little’s second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, has won the former president’s favor. Little has taken no public stance on Trump, but McGeachin drew headlines when she tried to remove Covid-19 restrictions when Little left the state, only to have little put them back in place when he returned.