U.S. Senator Steve Daines will control Republican Senate campaign operations in 2024, the year that Democratic Montana Senator Jon Tester is up for re-election.
Daines’ chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee was unveiled Wednesday during a news conference announcing Republican leadership after a lackluster 2022 election in which the party expected to regain the Senate majority but failed.
Tester submitted his candidacy for the 2024 election on January 31, 2019, just months after being re-elected to a third term in 2018.
“We came off among voters who didn’t like President Biden’s performance, among independents and among moderate Republicans who looked at us and concluded, too much chaos, too much negativity,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell . “And we knocked out a lot of centrist voters, which is why I never predicted a red wave to begin with.”
Daines was unveiled as a new member of the leadership lineup that emerged after NRSC Chairman Sen. Rick Scott’s poorly backed leadership challenge to McConnell in 2022.
Asked by the press to assess Scott’s performance as NRSC chairman, McConnell Daines relented.
“We are happy. And we will learn,” said Daines. “Lessons will certainly be learned from this final cycle. There’s always a lot to learn, and we’ll take the lessons learned and apply them in the future.” The senator didn’t specify.
As one of only three Democrats elected in 2018 with less than 51% of the vote, Tester has twice been a high-profile target for the NRSC. The Democrat’s 50.3% vote share in 2018 was his strongest showing in three successful elections where support for libertarian candidates differentiated the Democrat from his Republican opponents.
“In this most recent election, Montanans elected a large Republican majority to the Legislature and two Republican members to the US House of Representatives. By 2024, the senator wants to continue expanding the Republican majority in Montana,” said Katie Schoettler, a Daines policy adviser. “As far as the 2024 Montana Senate race goes, it will be one of the top three races in the country. We’ve got plenty of time, but the senator knows this — we’re going to have a great Republican nominee for the Senate in 2024.”
A Republican Senate nominee for 2024 has not been identified.
The Republican leadership team relies heavily on members from the Northern Plains, including Sen. John Thune, GOP whip from South Dakota, and John Barrasso, GOP conference chair from Wyoming.
Thune introduced Daines as “my northern neighbor from Montana who knows how to win tough elections and is the right person to chair the Republican Senate committee.”
Daines was first elected to the Senate in 2014, as part of a nine-seat win for the Republicans. He came fresh from a win for US House in 2012, in which he received 53% of the vote. Daines won 57.7% of the vote in the 2014 race against Democrat Amanda Curtis, a late-summer successor to John Walsh, who resigned in August amid a plagiarism scandal. Daines was re-elected in 2020 with 55% of the vote against then-Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. In the span of these election years, Democrats went from controlling both US Senate seats in Montana and all but one statewide office to no statewide offices and one Senate seat, Tester’s.
Daines played the role and was in pre-election campaigns in Georgia and Nevada that gave Republicans a chance to control the Senate. Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto won in Nevada. Republican Herschel Walker follows incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock in Georgia, which is heading for a runoff.
When asked if Daines’ own rhetoric contributed to the chaos and negativity McConnell associated with the lackluster 2022 results, Schoettler offered a more focused message for the next campaign cycle.
“The senator believes Republicans need to work together and focus our message on what Americans care about, like high gas and food prices and the dangerous southern border crisis,” Schoettler said. “The choice for Americans in 2024 will be clear: a Republican party that will ensure America’s stronger, brighter future, and a Democratic party that will lead our country further on the road to socialism.”
Daines’ responses to questions about the article were not received until late Wednesday night, including whether he supported former President Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign, which began Tuesday night. The former president’s election-denial policies have quickly become a scapegoat for the GOP’s limited gains in the 2022 election.
“It’s no secret that Senator Daines has a good relationship with President Trump. As chair of the NRSC, the senator’s job and primary focus is to elect Republicans to the Senate,” Schoettler said. “And he will work with President Trump and other Republican leaders to do that.”
Trump has played the kingmaker in Montana politics since his election in 2016. The former president endorsed Daines in 2020 and flew to Montana several times to promote Matt Rosendale in 2018 when Rosendale unsuccessfully challenged testers. Trump also named Ryan Zinke Secretary of the Interior in late 2017, making the Whitefish Republican the only Montanan to serve in a presidential cabinet.
Neither Rosendale nor Zinke would answer on Wednesday whether or not they supported the recent presidential nomination of Trump, who backed both men for the US House of Representatives in the elections that ended Nov. 8. Trump won 56.9% of the Montana vote in the 2020 presidential election.
McConnell also avoided answering questions about Trump’s announced campaign. “I have no comments on the timing of this,” he said before turning to the Georgia Senate runoff.
Rosendale is among a few dozen Republicans challenging House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid for party chairman, as well as his bid to become Speaker of the House in January. McCarthy’s lead nomination, a California Republican, was challenged by far-right Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, who received 31 votes in support of McCarthy’s 188 votes.
Rosendale and other McCarthy opponents addressed far-right media on Wednesday, arguing for a change in the rules of how the House of Representatives operates. Rosendale told far-right media personality Sebastian Gorka: “What we’re calling for is a return to the rules that used to be, before all that power was consolidated in the hands of the speaker and a very small group of people who elect the speaker, known as the rules committee is.”
The rules committee consists of nine people, and they determine what changes are allowed to a given law, Rosendale said. “And the speaker is the one who dictates which bills are actually presented. Anyone who has served in a legislature knows that doesn’t work. Anyone should have the opportunity to change any bill that has passed the committee and should be allowed to vote. And Kevin has shown that he’s not ready to make those changes and wants to maintain that status quo that consolidates power with him.”
Those 31 opponents, and a desire to rewrite bills outside of committee on the floor of the House of Representatives, pose challenges to McCarthy’s ability to maintain order in the tightly divided House of Representatives. McCarthy has backed away from top Conservative priorities such as impeaching President Joe Biden in recent weeks. Rosendale has proposed an impeachment trial against Biden officials, namely Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. There have been 14 Republican bills to impeach Biden or members of his cabinet. Changing the House Rules of Procedure would allow these bills to pass without the Rules Committee’s filter.
The Republicans secured a majority in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, a full week after the general election, with 218 seats over the Democrats’ 210 seats. The results for seven seats in the US House of Representatives were tied on Wednesday, but there is little room for dissent within the Republican ranks in a vote with such a small majority. While the 31 opponents of McCarthy’s leadership might not be able to stop his appointment as speaker, they could easily thwart any priority legislation.
Zinke’s employees said Wednesday he was working on the deal and could not comment.
“Congressman-elect Zinke is in conference sessions the rest of the day and is focused on work in the House this week,” said Zinke counsel Heather Swift.