WASHINGTON (The Hill) — The top Republican candidates hoping to win back control of the Senate have embraced former President Trump as a kind of running mate in the first weeks of their campaigns, a recognition that the ousted president is still the party’s best fundraiser and most recognizable figure even from exile in Florida.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who has Trump’s endorsement in the race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby (R), mentioned the former president seven times in a press release announcing his candidacy. His leading rival, former Ambassador Lynda Blanchard (R), recently held a fundraiser at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
In Missouri, former Gov. Eric Greitens (R) promised to defend Trump’s “America first policies” less than a minute into an interview on Fox News in which he announced he would run to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R). Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) mentioned Trump twice in his own announcement video.
“We need to promote President Trump’s America first policies. That’s what’s going to help to bring that kind of broad-based prosperity back,” Greitens told Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo last month.
“President Trump built the strongest economy our country has ever seen, and I am going to fight to bring it back,” Schmitt said in his announcement video.
In Ohio, a state Trump carried by 8 points, the former president is the star of the show. Former Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) mentioned Trump a dozen times in a press release announcing his campaign to replace retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R). Businessman Bernie Moreno (R) cited Trump four times in his own announcement, and businessman Mike Gibbons (R) praised Trump twice.
“Josh Mandel was proud to be the first statewide elected official in Ohio to support President Trump in 2016 when others were supporting John Kasich. After seeing the second sham impeachment take place this February, Josh was motivated to run for the U.S. Senate to continue to fight for President Trump’s America First agenda,” said Scott Guthrie, Mandel’s campaign manager. “Ohioans overwhelmingly elected President Trump because his policies created unprecedented economic success, kept our borders secure and America safe. When Josh gets to the U.S. Senate, he will fight tooth and nail to keep advancing President Trump’s agenda.”
Former Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken (R) reversed herself last month and called on Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R), one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January, to resign.
“President Trump is the most popular Republican in America and his agenda worked for Ohioans,” Timken said in a statement. “I’ve championed those America First policies over for the past four years as his hand-picked Party Chair, and it’s what I will stand up for in the U.S. Senate because it’s what is best for Ohio.”
Trump is so ever-present in Republican campaigns that his absence is notable in itself.
Pennsylvania real estate developer Jeff Bartos (R), who has not aligned himself closely with Trump, has mentioned the former president only once on Twitter, praising his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, and only once on his website, citing Trump as the candidate who fought for overlooked voters.
The only time former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) mentions Trump’s name on his website is in support of a border wall Trump pledged to build while in office.
Republican strategists working for some of the leading candidates say their clients have two goals in leaning so heavily on an ousted incumbent. First, Trump remains the singular focus of the Republican primary electorate that will decide which contenders make it through crowded primary elections.
“The fever will break eventually, but right now we are in a time when the key qualification to win a primary is whether the candidate supported President Trump,” said one Republican strategist involved in several key races, who asked for anonymity to be candid about his client’s strategy.
Second, Trump remains the best fundraiser within the Republican Party. Several strategists said the average email solicitation with Trump’s signature raises much more than an email without his name.
“Low-dollar fundraising is driven by the organic DNA of the recipient’s original donation. Donors are much more likely to give to an appeal that mirrors the original appeal that they answered. The thing that made them get off their couch and off the sidelines and into the game as a donor is what’s most likely to motivate them subsequently,” said another party strategist involved in other key campaigns.
The original motivator for Republican low-dollar donors remains Trump himself, the Republican candidate who raised more money through small-dollar solicitations than any other candidate in party history.
Trump has sought to maintain his leverage over the GOP, dropping in on fundraisers for candidates who spend money to hobnob with donors at his Florida resort and endorsing those he deems as sufficiently supportive. Trump has so far endorsed eight U.S. Senators facing reelection next year, along with Brooks in Alabama and two candidates running for Congress.
The fealty to Trump, observers say, is a sign of his hold on core Republican voters — even if some of his support may be slipping. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday found 44 percent of GOP voters said they considered themselves more a supporter of Trump than of the Republican Party, a tremendous amount of loyalty to one man but one that has slipped significantly, by 10 points, since just before the 2020 election.
“That’s what counts, especially when party base voters are likely base voters,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in North Carolina. “Will a full-throated support for the former president be the determining factor over the next year’s primary battle? Yet to be seen.”