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The Sweep: Who’s Got the Best Strategy for 2024?
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The Sweep: Who’s Got the Best Strategy for 2024?

Some candidates are hitting Iowa, some are sticking closer to home or focused on the midterms.

Headline of the Week

 “In these locations, a gallon of gas costs more than the federal minimum wage,” from CBS News. Uvalde and abortion may be leading political news, but it’s hard to see any issue between now and November that will be more important to voters than inflation and gas prices. 

Look Who’s Running

Iowa can be a very popular vacation destination for certain folks. Just look at former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is scheduled to speak at the second annual “Feenstra Family Picnic,” in Sioux Center, Iowa, in just a few days. Last year’s headliner was former Vice President Mike Pence. And lo and behold, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is headlining the Iowa GOP Cedar Rapids reception with Iowa Senator Sen. Joni Ernst this month, too.

Pence has already visited New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Iowa three times each since leaving office. And he’s been out stumping for candidates, including campaigning with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp—whom former President Donald Trump has called the “worst governor in America”—the night before the Georgia primary. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also been to Iowa at least three times since Trump left office. And he, too, has been out on the trail to support non-Trump endorsed candidates. A month ago, he held a press conference “about the ties Mehmet Oz, Trump’s endorsed candidate in the Pennsylvania Senate race, has to Turkey in a press briefing arranged by Oz’s chief opponent in the race.”

But you don’t have to wait outside the Des Moines airport to see who is seriously considering a run for president in 2024. You just have to check with the IRS. 

At least a dozen potential candidates for president in 2024 have active nonprofit groups aligned with them, according to a review of corporate filings, campaign disclosures and financial records obtained by POLITICO … Nonprofits can’t spend more than half of their money on expressly political activity, but they can still make a big mark on the electoral landscape. 

Advancing American Freedom, the group founded in 2021 by former Vice President Mike Pence, estimated it would raise $5 million and spend nearly that much last year, according to a filing with state regulators in North Carolina. And the Pence nonprofit announced plans earlier this year for a $10 million TV ad campaign targeting 16 House Democrats. By comparison, Pence’s PAC—Great America Committee, which cannot accept individual contributions of more than $5,000 per year—has raised over $557,000 and spent $787,000 since January 2021.

Here’s a list of every potential candidate with one of these nonprofit groups supporting them collected by Politico

But why is any of this interesting? Of course, these guys are running for president, right? So who cares how many times each one has gone to Iowa or what independent expenditure group has formed to help them along their way? 

I started talking to the proto-Carly Fiorina campaign in the weeks before the 2014 midterms and officially came on board January 2, 2015. This is The Way. But that was before Trump. And before the Trump administration. And before, well, the last six years changed everything we thought we knew about running a national campaign in the United States. 

So why, then, does all of this feel very 2014? Because every candidate needs consultants and staff—and the vast majority of those folks came of age in the pre-Trump era and are going to run the same playbook they’ve been running for the 20 to 30 years they’ve been in this business. It’s why we may well have 15 candidates in the race even if Donald Trump gets in—each one thinking they can be the “alternative to Trump,” which is exactly what every single GOP candidate said in 2015. 

But notice who is missing from all of these flight manifests and outside spending groups: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is far and away the favorite among GOP voters for 2024 not named Trump. But DeSantis is doing the opposite of stoking the flames of a potential run, telling radio host Guy Benson, “I’ve never been to Iowa in my life. I’ve never been to New Hampshire, I may have been there in my 20s. I’m just doing my job.” Then again, it’s easy to be coy when you’re all anyone wants to talk about. 

Sen. Ted Cruz also isn’t on these lists. Not that he’s been shy about his plans for 2024. Instead of retail politics in Iowa, Cruz is endorsing candidates for 2022. But Cruz started a podcast during the first impeachment trial that was No. 1 in the country, surpassing Joe Rogan and the New York Times’ Daily.* This year, Cruz has been going toe-to-toe with Trump, endorsing Josh Mandel in Ohio and Dave McCormick in Pennsylvania. Maybe it’ll work; maybe it won’t. But at least it’s different. 

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has also been traveling to Iowa and New Hampshire. But I think he’s got something else up his sleeve as well. Politico just had an interview with the third youngest senator. “Politicians don’t enjoy it, but most change positions at least once in their careers. Then there’s Tom Cotton,” Burgess Everett wrote. “From restricting legal and illegal immigration to hawkish foreign policy to criticizing the nation’s ‘under-incarceration’ of criminals, the Arkansas senator keeps staking out hardline positions in anticipation that fellow Republicans will come to him.” Whether Cotton runs this cycle or not, he seems to be playing the long game, betting that maintaining his own brand will pay off over time rather than bending to the political moment. 

Here’s the bottom line: On the one hand, there’s not a whole lot a presidential candidate can do more than two years before a presidential election. On the other hand, there’s an endless amount: Raise money for midterm candidates to build your own fundraising list, stump for midterm candidates who can endorse when it’s your turn on the ballot, hire staff so they don’t get scooped up by a rival team, and introduce yourself to voters in key states. 

But that’s the old, pre-Trump way. Sure, these 501(c)4 organizations are a clever way to get around campaign finance laws while still building some basic presidential infrastructure, but at the end of the day, DeSantis has the better strategy in my view if Trump decides not to run: be further ahead with GOP voters than any other potential GOP candidate in recent history and let everyone else fight over the scraps. 

Primary Race Watch

The big three “Trump endorsement” primaries might be over, but there’s plenty of action left before the general election starts in the fall. Here are three races that have my attention today:

  1. San Francisco district attorney recall election: Next week, progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin faces an uphill battle to keep his job. The former deputy public defender—the son of two Weather Underground members convicted of felony murder and robbery—has become the face of a movement to lower incarceration levels. The narrative around the race has taken on national attention as violent crime has increased against the backdrop of these criminal justice reform measures. “The recall’s supporters see a reckless and incompetent prosecutor who has undermined public safety by prioritizing defendants, seeking lesser charges or avoiding jail time with pretrial diversion programs,” writes Politico’s Jeremy White.“Boudin and his backers warn that entrenched interests are exploiting fear and spreading misinformation to throttle a burgeoning national movement away from harsh sentences and over-incarceration.”

  1. Testing Alaska’s nonpartisan primary: On June 11, Alaska will hold its first nonpartisan primary to replace Rep. Don Young, who died in March after serving almost 50 years as Alaska’s only member of Congress. Forty-eight people have filed for the seat, including Santa Claus. That’s right: 4-8. They include “​​former Gov. Sarah Palin, who is endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump; Nick Begich III, whose grandfather held the seat before Mr. Young; four Alaska Natives, including one, Tara Sweeney, who served in the Trump administration; Jeff Lowenfels, a retired lawyer and a prolific local gardening columnist; and Mr. Claus, a portly, bearded North Pole councilman and socialist.” The top four finishers next week will then be ranked by voters in August in an “instant runoff” to determine who will finish Young’s term until January. The race is colorful, but the real test is the election model itself and whether changing to a nonpartisan primary and ranked choice voting will change who wins and how they behave once in Congress.

  1. But, wait, there’s still Arizona: We’ve got a ways to go until August, when Arizona will hold its GOP primary to decide who will go up against Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. More than Ohio or Pennsylvania, though, this race really pits candidates representing two different futures for a post-Trump GOP. Attorney General Mark Brnovich has the feel of a more traditional conservative pro-Trump Republican, endorsed by Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. The home page of his website has a ticker for how many times he’s sued the Biden administration (24) and “actions defending the border since Biden took office” (seven). Blake Masters, however, is trying to team up with J.D. Vance and Josh Hawley “to ‘rebuild’ the Republican Party into an ‘American-first, pro-family, pro-worker’ party,” Masters told Politico. Masters, Vance, and Hawley all have the backing of Peter Thiel, the conservative Silicon Valley billionaire who has put millions behind this new breed: “candidates from elite schools and even more elite financial backgrounds embracing ‘the National Conservative’ or New Right movement, a particularly populist, nationalist and even authoritarian strain of conservatism.” Sure, they view themselves as pro-Trump, but they are touting a future for the Republican Party that’s something more like Trump 2.0, taking the revolution Trump started and putting policy meat on the bones and finishing the work to realign the GOP along education and income lines, taking a lot of former Democratic voters with them along the way. 

General Race Watch

 The charts below show Cook Political Report’s top tier races for Senate and governor alongside the partisan lean for the state. As you’ll see, of the six competitive governor’s races, four are seats currently held by Democrats and five favor Republicans. The Senate side isn’t much better for Democrats. Three of the top five are held by Democrats and four lean Republican. And, remember, the 2024 Senate map is even worse for Democrats.

Incentives, Primaries, and How We Vote

Today on The Dispatch Podcast we are releasing a conversation with Nick Troiano, executive director of Unite America, and Ned Foley, law professor at the Ohio State University, about how we should structure our elections to maximize voter preference and incentivize good people to run for office. If you’re even mildly interested in why nothing happens in Congress and why our political climate seems to be drifting into some sort of authoritarian dystopia, I highly recommend it. 

We talked about everything from Duverger’s Law (which explains why independents have such a hard time breaking through in a two-party system)  to Alaska’s new nonpartisan primaries to the math behind ranked choice voting. But all of their ideas—which I strongly support—still require ballot measures, state laws, or an act of Congress. 

Jonathan Robinson and Sean Trende, on the other hand, have a different idea about how to fix our broken election system: vote in the other party’s primary when yours isn’t competitive.

Strategic, limited party-switching has some precedent. About 8,000 nonpartisan and Democratic voters reregistered as Republicans in Nebraska’s recent primary, likely in an attempt to prevent the Trump-endorsed candidate from winning the GOP gubernatorial contest. Or consider Mississippi in 2014. Incumbent GOP Senator Thad Cochran found himself forced into a runoff against the much more conservative Chris McDaniel. Cochran survived in part because he persuaded enough Black Democratic voters to turn out and support him. Conservatives cried foul, but what was the sin? Cochran had a reputation (at least for a Republican) for reaching out to Black voters, and whoever emerged from that primary would almost surely win the general election. By participating in the election that was very likely to determine the next senator from Mississippi, these voters helped ensure that their senator was the “least bad” option. Our reaction? More, please.

Correction, June 1, 2022: This piece initially described Ted Cruz’s podcast as launching before Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial.

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.