Sure, the pandemic shut down basically everything. But the housing market? It’s kept on chugging along. In fact, prices are soaring.
Yet another opportunity for ambitious Trump acolytes arose Monday when longtime Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and ally of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), announced his retirement.
No one has officially declared they’ll seek the seat, though Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), who has hugged Trump tightly and represents a rural part of the state, told reporters Tuesday that he’s “considering it.” (And more moderate Rep. Ann Wagner, who represents a district in the St. Louis suburbs, isn’t ruling out a run.)
Blunt, speaking in Missouri on Monday, took a subtle shot at lawmakers who refuse to compromise. “The country in the last decade or so has sort of fallen off the edge of too many politicians saying, ‘If you’ll vote for me I’ll never compromise on anything’,” Blunt said. “That’s a philosophy that particularly does not work in a democracy.”
Meanwhile, in Georgia, Republicans are jockeying to take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, who clinched a special election in January but will need to win a full, six-year term in 2022. Former Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a Trump loyalist who mounted a failed Senate bid, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he may run statewide again. Collins is taking a look at challenging Warnock or Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has become a reviled figure on the right for refusing to overturn Georgia’s election results.
Two other hard-core Trump allies in the Peach State, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jody Hice, both signaled through their offices that they are focused on their work in the House.
Then there’s New York, where GOP Reps. Lee Zeldin and Elise Stefanik — who both were catapulted off the back benches of Congress after defending Trump during his first impeachment — are both reportedly mulling a potential bid for governor. A Republican hasn’t led the state in 15 years, but some in the GOP see an opening with Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo under fire for both sexual harassment and coronavirus scandals.
One factor that could be a tipping point in the decision-making process is a coveted endorsement from Trump. Both Biggs and Brooks said they’ve spoken either to Trump or people around him about a possible bid; Biggs has also been meeting with senators and outside groups to discuss “what it would look like” to run.
“In Alabama, a President Trump endorsement is gold,” said Brooks, who plans to make a decision this month or next.
So far, however, Trump has endorsed just one congressional candidate: Max Miller, a former White House and campaign aide who is running against GOP Rep. Anthony Gonzalez in what is now a safe red seat in northeast Ohio. Gonzalez likely put himself in danger after he voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 riot.
Not all the Senate contests where Trump allies may jump in are safe turf for Republicans. That’s fueling concern that ultra-conservative candidates could win in primaries, especially if they earn Trump’s backing, and then complicate the GOP’s effort to win back the Senate majority.
The fear is especially acute in Arizona, where Biggs could be the front-runner in a primary but would likely struggle to oust Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), a former astronaut and fundraising juggernaut, in the general election.
“Given that [Biggs’] profile has been increasing significantly because of his alignment with Trump and the things that were happening leading up to [January] 6th, it makes him formidable in a primary. But it will make it very challenging for him in the general,” said Sean Noble, a GOP strategist.
“I would be shocked if he didn’t get the president’s support, and I would guess he would raise a significant amount of money,” Noble added. “But I don’t know whether he’s got the ability to raise $100 million, which is what Mark Kelly raised last time.”
Brooks would have some competition in the Trump lane, which essentially takes up the whole highway in Alabama. Lynda Blanchard, Trump’s former ambassador to Slovenia, is the only candidate officially running so far, and her campaign announced that she has already poured $5 million into the race.
Yet Brooks said he’s seen polling that has him up by double digits against any potential GOP candidates in the state.
“I think Mo Brooks has positioned himself well,” said Chris Brown, a Republican strategist in Alabama. “We’re the Trumpiest state in the country and he’s the Trumpiest member of our delegation.”
And Brooks also noted that the Alabama GOP recently passed a resolution praising Brooks and the rest of the Republican state delegation — everyone, that is, except Shelby.
“There were two resolutions that they passed. One was strictly about me, the other was about our delegation, excluding Richard Shelby,” Brooks said. “So it complimented Tommy Tuberville, myself, and the other Republican House members from Alabama. And was silent on Richard Shelby, because Richard Shelby voted to support the election results.”
If some House Freedom Caucus lawmakers do land in the Senate, it wouldn’t be the first time that members of the hard-line group have graduated into higher-ranking roles. Other former HFC members include Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, and former White House chiefs of staff Mark Meadows and Mick Mulvaney.
“Say what you want to about the Freedom Caucus,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who himself passed on a Senate bid, “but I think that just shows people appreciate folks who tell them what they are going to do, and then get in office and do what they said.”
James Arkin contributed reporting.
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