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Herrera Beutler Weighing Gov Run, Donors Say
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Herrera Beutler Weighing Gov Run, Donors Say

Plus: 2024 hopefuls converge Friday on a Texas GOP donor retreat.

Former Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Happy Wednesday! Congrats to Democratic state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who on Tuesday won a special-election victory in Virginia’s deep-blue 4th Congressional District over Republican Leon Benjamin. McClellan will become the first black woman to represent Virginia in Congress. 

Up to Speed

  • One day after a public visit to Kyiv, President Joe Biden pledged ongoing U.S. military support for Ukraine’s defensive war against Russia in a speech in Warsaw, Poland. “Autocrats only understand one word: No, no, no. No, you will not take my country. No, you will not take my freedom. No, you will not take my future,” Biden said. “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia.” Several hours later, former President Donald Trump released a video statement claiming that “World War III has never been closer than it is right now.” “We need to clean house of all of the warmongers and America-last globalists in the deep state, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the national security industrial complex,” Trump said. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also scoffed at Biden’s Europe trip this week: “He’s very concerned about those borders halfway around the world,” he said in a Monday appearance on Fox & Friends. “He’s not done anything to secure our own border here at home.”
  • Pretty much everybody is still operating under the assumption that Biden is running for reelection, but Politico has some good reporting this morning on how his internally delayed announcement—once reportedly planned for February, now expected in April—“has resulted in an awkward deep freeze across the party” in which “some potential presidential aspirants and scores of major donors are strategizing and even developing a Plan B while trying to remain respectful and publicly supportive of the 80-year-old president.”
  • The 2024 presidential race just got its third GOP contender, its second Indian-American candidate, and its first political newcomer. Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech founder who since 2020 has remade himself online and in frequent Fox News appearances as an “anti-woke” activist, announced a run for president Tuesday with an appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight and a slick launch video in which he denounced “new secular religions like COVID-ism, climate-ism, and gender ideology.”
  • The Democratic field may soon get its first outside challenger too: Self-help guru Marianne Williamson has teased a second consecutive presidential bid with the promise of an “important announcement” in early March. Williamson was never a major contender in 2020, dropping out before even the Iowa caucuses, but had several memorable debate performances, including one in which promised to “harness love for political purposes” to combat Trump. “I will meet you on that field,” she said, “and sir, love will win.”
  • Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana announced Wednesday he will run for reelection. His seat is a top target for Republicans this cycle in a state Donald Trump won by more than 16 points in 2020.

Jaime Herrera Beutler Mulls a 2024 Gubernatorial Bid, Donors Say

In September, investment manager and Washington state political fundraiser David Nierenberg received a telephone call from an old friend, Armando Herrera. He was calling on behalf of his daughter Jaime Herrera Beutler, the six-term congresswoman representing Washington’s 3rd District.

Troubled by her jungle primary defeat to GOP challenger Joe Kent and Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez several weeks prior, Herrera Beutler’s father wanted to know whether his daughter should take another run at elected office—and shoot higher. 

“​​He asked me what I thought about the prospect of Jaime running for governor,” Nierenberg told The Dispatch in an interview. 

It’s the latest sign Herrera Beutler is weighing a political comeback in the wake of her departure from Congress in January, two years after she cast her fateful vote to impeach former President Donald Trump following the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Herrera Beutler isn’t eager to talk about her political future. Two of her former congressional staffers—Pamela Peiper and Parker Truax—did not respond to multiple requests for comment about her interest in running for governor.

Privately, though, Herrera Beutler is making the rounds, asking close confidants if she should challenge third-term Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in 2024. A Republican donor who supported Herrera Beutler’s congressional campaigns confirmed last week the Republican is engaged in exploratory conversations about a gubernatorial bid and is “definitely thinking about it.”

“It’s in the realm of possibility—she’s not decided, for sure,” emphasized the donor, who said he spoke with her about a prospective gubernatorial bid in early February. “But she’s interested in thinking about it, wanting to chat with me about whether I thought it was possible or crazy.”

Herrera Beutler would face an uphill climb. Washington is reliably blue, with Democrats continually controlling the governor’s mansion longer than in any other state: A Republican has not won a gubernatorial contest there since John Spellman in 1980. 

Winning statewide as a Republican isn’t easy. “You’ve got to be able to appeal to both sides of the state which is difficult, politically,” current GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse, of Washington’s 4th District, said in an interview last month.

The northwest patch of the state is home to Seattle, Olympia, and Bellingham and several blue-leaning counties Biden carried handily in 2020. So in order to win statewide in a general election, Republicans will have to perform well in the red counties that dominate from eastern Washington to the southwest chunk of the state (Herrera Beutler’s old stomping grounds).

Possibly helping matters is the fact that Inslee has run behind Biden in the past. The same year Biden carried Washington by roughly 19 points in 2020, Inslee only won by  13.5—and that was against ultra-conservative challenger Loren Culp. (In 2022, Culp unsuccessfully challenged Newhouse in the primary for voting to impeach Trump.) 

“She’s a woman, she’s experienced, and she knows how to campaign,” former Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed—who has won statewide as a Republican three times—said of Herrera Beutler. 

“People in the suburbs will respect her for having the courage of her convictions in terms of her vote on impeachment and such,” he added. 

To compete in the general, she’d have to make it through next year’s top-two primary first, and she knows better than anyone how challenging that can be.

Herrera Beutler’s jungle primary defeat was a pivotal moment for Nierenberg, who switched his fundraising allegiance from Herrera Beutler to Perez, the Democrat, in his bid to prevent Kent from winning the seat. (Kent is known for defending those charged with crimes in the January 6 Capitol attack as “political prisoners” and rubbing elbows with white nationalists.) Nierenberg is already helping fundraise for Perez’s reelection campaign, The Dispatch reported last week.

Still, he recalls telling Herrera Beutler’s father in September that he would be “supportive” of her prospective gubernatorial campaign on one condition: She’d have to reframe her pro-life views given Washington’s Democratic tilt, and “express them as personal views by which she lives her life, rather than advocating that her views become the law of our state.”

That’s a political calculus she’ll have to make if she decides to run. 

Nierenberg recalled running into Herrera Beutler in an airport in December. “What Jaime had said to me, more generally, on the subject of politics, is that she wants to remain ‘relevant.’ That was the word that she used,” he said. “But she says that at this moment in time, given the complexion of the Republican Party, that her brand of Republicanism may still be out of favor, and she recognizes that she may need to wait for a while until such time as the party moderates itself—if it ever does.”

Republican (Shadow) Primary Heads to Austin

The developing campaign for the Republican presidential nomination heads to a posh resort in Austin Friday for a biennial, closed-door donor conference hosted by Texas Sen. John Cornyn and uber GOP strategist Karl Rove.

The daylong event, to reward Republican contributors and volunteers who helped grow the ranks of registered GOP voters in the Lone Star State the last two years, kicks off with welcome remarks from Cornyn. Next up: a series of one-on-one conversations with a half-dozen existing and potential 2024 contenders, plus other prominent Republicans, moderated by members of the Texas GOP Congressional delegation.

The morning program features former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Vice President Mike Pence—and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, to be interviewed by Rep. August Pfluger. Kemp, among the party’s few bright spots in the midterm elections after overcoming opposition from former President Donald Trump in Georgia’s 2022 primary, is likely preparing to challenge Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff in 2026. At lunch, conference attendees will be treated to a dialogue with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Headlining the afternoon session are talks with South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Nikki Haley. Cornyn is interviewing Scott; Rep. Tony Gonzales is interviewing Haley, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations and ex-South Carolina governor who entered the presidential race last Wednesday. Additionally: Rep. Jodey Arrington is set  to interview House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and Rep. Dan Crenshaw will host a discussion on foreign policy with Florida Rep. Michael Waltz.

Concluding the parade of Republicans eyeing the White House is New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu. 

As recently as late November, Sununu was downplaying any interest in a 2024 bid. Now, the governor is all-in. He was in Naples, Florida, last week speaking to a GOP group, is in Austin this week, and has a busy travel schedule planned for the months ahead as he mulls whether to mount a presidential campaign. Enlarging his threadbare political operation with a super PAC and more staff could be on tap as the consideration process progresses, Sununu told The Dispatch this month in an interview.

“We’re having real conversations about it—about what the structure would be. How do we raise money into this?” he said. “There’s no doubt I could do the job.” As for the rationale for a Sununu campaign?

“I don’t see anybody reaching into the next generation of Republican voter. I don’t see anybody else trying to build our base beyond our comfort zones,” the governor said. “I hate this wokeism stuff; I hate cancel culture. But the party has gotten too focused on thinking the government is the solution to a cultural problem.”

“You can’t have leadership that is only about the cultural fight,” Sununu added. “You have to be willing to fight but you can’t be only about that because you’ll never get anything done.” Sununu is in no hurry to make a decision on running but said the schedule of the GOP primary debates, once issued by the Republican National Committee, could influence his timeline.

The race for the nomination appears to be picking up, albeit slowly. 

On Thursday evening, Christie, Haley and Scott are scheduled to appear as special guests at pre-conference dinners in Austin hosted by top Texas GOP donors, among them Joe Lonsdale. (Kemp also is set to be a special guest at one of the dinners.) Haley is to arrive in Austin fresh off of visits to Iowa and New Hampshire following her launch in South Carolina, rounding out a swing through the trio of states that vote first, second, and third on the party’s presidential nominating calendar.

Meanwhile, Pence was in Iowa last week; Scott is in Iowa this week after initiating a speaking tour last Thursday in South Carolina; Christie was in Washington earlier this month for meetings; and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is traveling nationally, speaking to local police groups, ostensibly to promote the release of his upcoming book, The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.

Eyes on the Trail

  • Republicans softening on federal weed criminalization: It’s far from a top-of-mind GOP issue, but the evidence continues to mount that Republican voters, like Democrats, are increasingly open to ending federal laws prohibiting possession and use of marijuana. A recent poll conducted on behalf of the nonprofit Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR), which was first provided to The Dispatch, found that 68 percent of Republicans support ending prohibition at the federal level and leaving the question of weed’s legality up to the individual states. “Once again, it appears the only place where cannabis reform is unpopular is in Washington, D.C.,” Rep. Nancy Mace, a South Carolina Republican, said in a statement. “It is time we give states the power to make decisions around cannabis without fear of federal consequences.” CPEAR is backed by many companies in the tobacco and alcohol industries with cannabis stakes, including Altria, Molson Coors, and Constellation Brands.
  • Can a Republican win Slotkin’s House seat? If Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan’s 7th Congressional District follows through with her widely anticipated run for retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s seat this cycle, she’ll leave an open U.S. House seat in her wake. Slotkin’s 2022 Republican challenger is already putting out feelers for another run. Michigan state Sen. Tom Barrett, an Iraq veteran who lost to Slotkin by 5.4 points in November, says he’s giving “serious consideration” to a 2024 bid. And he’s making moves early. Barrett met with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)—House Republicans’ campaign arm—a few weeks ago to chat about “lessons learned” from last cycle. Beyond challenges surrounding abortion on the ballot and Slotkin’s incumbent advantage, one of the biggest challenges Barrett faced was fundraising. “My opponent spent over $10 million on TV, I spent less than a million and a half on TV, it was a huge differential,” Barrett said in an interview. But now that national Republicans know he’s a competitive candidate with name recognition in the district, he’s hoping super PACs could back him up early—unless he faces stiff competition in the primary. “It would certainly be another high-profile, expensive race,” Barrett said. If he decides to run, he also won’t have the burden of running against an incumbent, though his party’s presidential and U.S. Senate nominees would certainly have downstream effects on his race. His prospective Democratic challengers include Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, State Rep. Angela Witwer, and State Sens. Curtis Hertel, Sarah Anthony, and Sam Singh.
  • Swagwatch, Nikki Haley edition: Your Dispatch Politics correspondents are huge appreciators of campaign merch. Swag is primarily a list-building instrument: You send off for a hat, pin, or bumper sticker, and the campaign gets the email and mailing addresses of a sympathetic voter it can pump for more donations later. Sometimes swag catches the zeitgeist and becomes an iconic symbol of a moment in political history—an “I Like Ike” button, a “Make America Great Again” hat. Arguably even better, though, is the swag that’s created to squeeze a few extra donations out of impossibly small, fleeting news cycles. You may have heard, for instance, that CNN personality Don Lemon landed in hot water late last week when he argued on-air that Nikki Haley, as a 51-year-old woman, was “past her prime.” Lemon apologized, committed to undergo “formal training” (incredible phrase!) to avoid such unfortunate turns of phrase in the future, and is now back on TV. You could forget about the whole thing by next week—or you could choose to remember it every time you drink outdoors for the rest of your life: Donating $7 or more to Haley’s campaign will get you a “Past my prime? Hold my beer” koozie. 

Notable and Quotable

“I’ve been a terrible liar on those subjects. What I try to convey to the American people is, I made mistakes of allowing the pressures of what I thought needed to be done—in order to—this wasn’t about tricking anybody.”

—Rep. George Santos in an interview with Piers Morgan, Monday, February 20, 2023

Editor’s note, 2/22/2023: This newsletter’s cannabis polling item previously misstated the percentage of polled Republican voters who stated they support decriminalizing marijuana at the federal level. The percentage is 68 percent, not 63 percent.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.