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It’s the latest chapter in a slow-building 2024 shadow primary. By throwing themselves into House races, potential candidates are currying goodwill with lawmakers and activists, testing out campaign themes and introducing themselves to voters around the country who will eventually determine the party’s next presidential nominee.

And there is another reason why House races are attractive playground for those looking to run: It’s a way to put themselves out there without poking the eye of former President Donald Trump, who has made clear that he’s interested in a comeback bid.

“They’re trying to figure out, how do you lay the groundwork without being seen as maybe trying to push the president out of the way?” said former Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, a past NRCC chair, who noted that several of the potential candidates previously served in Trump’s administration. “Until President Trump decides what he’s going to do, I think they can be helpful in House races in their own ways and keep focused on that and not run afoul of the big elephant in the room.”

Likely 2024 candidates are interested in more than just House races. As the midterm election nears, would-be contenders are certain to engage in Senate and gubernatorial contests, too. Glenn Youngkin, the GOP nominee in this year’s race for Virginia governor, has received support from Cruz, Haley and others.

But the stakes are particularly high in the closely divided House, with Republicans appearing to be early favorites to win the speaker’s gavel given their broad control of redistricting and the historical tendency for the party out of power to gain seats in a president’s first midterm election.

“They recognize that the House majority is within our reach and want to be able to point to the money they raised and candidates they backed to help Republicans when we win the House,” said Dan Conston, the president of Congressional Leadership Fund, the principal pro-House GOP super PAC.


The presidential hopefuls are following a well-worn playbook. Richard Nixon barnstormed the country for down-ballot candidates during the 1966 midterms, when Republicans saw sweeping gains in the House. Nixon used the election to jump-start his successful presidential bid two years later.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, supported dozens of Republicans during the 2010 election, when Republicans captured 63 seats and seized control of the House. Two years later, Romney became the GOP nominee.

The importance of Romney’s across-the-map campaigning during the 2010 midterms “cannot be understated,” said Matt Waldrip, a former Romney chief of staff and longtime confidante.

“There is no better way to understand the issues facing the voters around the country and to forge relationships with those fighting for the same ideals as you than getting in the bunker with them during their election campaigns,” said Waldrip.

Much of the focus is on House races taking place in states key to the presidential nominating process. A plethora of prospective candidates rallied behind Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks while House Democrats weighed whether to overturn her razor-thin, six-vote win in the 2020 election. (The challenge was ultimately dropped in March.) While Cotton raised money for Miller-Meeks’ legal fund, Pompeo used an Iowa trip to accuse Democrats of trying to “steal the seat.”

Haley, meanwhile, posted no fewer than a half-dozen tweets in support of Miller-Meeks and directed supporters to fill the congresswoman’s coffers.

The chit-building extends to New Hampshire, where several potential White House aspirants have been in touch with Republican Matt Mowers, who is likely to wage another House campaign after falling short in 2020. Mowers has hosted virtual events this year with Pompeo and Cotton benefiting down-ballot candidates and the state party.

Special elections are also drawing interest. After Trump endorsed Louisiana Republican Julia Letlow in her race for a vacant seat earlier this spring, several potential hopefuls reached out to McCarthy and his team to help the now-congresswoman. After backing Letlow, Haley has provided a surge of 11th-hour support for Mark Moores, a Republican running in this week’s special election for a New Mexico seat. The former ambassador has cut robocalls, sent get-out-the-vote-themed text messages, and raised tens of thousands of dollars through online fundraising.

Getting involved in congressional contests is particularly crucial to the former Trump administration officials looking to remain in the spotlight without the platform of holding high office right now. Former Vice President Mike Pence, who is embarking on a cross-country fundraising swing, endorsed Letlow and headlined a Texas fundraiser for a McCarthy political outfit earlier this month. Pence is expected to headline another event for the minority leader this summer.

Pompeo has become an outspoken advocate for House Republicans since departing the State Department. During a swing through the Midwest this spring, Pompeo stopped in Iowa to bolster home-state Rep. Ashley Hinson and Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, whose home media market spills into neighboring Iowa.

Haley has been among the most active of any of the potential candidates, using a newly created political action committee, Stand for America, to buttress candidates. She recently traveled to Texas to attend an event for freshman Rep. Beth Van Duyne and has been sending out emails and text messages raising money for House Republicans.

Some of the potential White House hopefuls are helping House candidates whose political profiles match their own. While Haley has been highlighting her support for female contenders, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was the special guest at an event for a fellow northeastern Republican, Rep. Andrew Garbarino of New York. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, an outspoken Trump critic, is expected to campaign for vulnerable Republicans running in battleground districts, as he did during the 2020 election.

The hope is that their support will pay off down the line — and that when it’s their turn to run in four years, House Republicans they backed will return the favor with endorsements of their own. Sitting members of Congress maintain networks of donors and supporters who can be critical in swaying presidential primary contests.

“The House,” said former Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, a former NRCC chair, “is going to be a great base to have.”



‘Rogue city leaders’: How Republicans are taking power away from mayors





“Next year, if a liberal town … imposes a mask mandate again on businesses throughout the community because of a bad flu virus or the sniffles, everybody would have to abide,” said state Rep. Joseph Chaplik, a freshman lawmaker who is skeptical of the science showing masks help reduce transmission of disease. “If we’re going to give up our freedom and liberties for temporary safety, we’re going to have neither safety nor freedom.”

The strategy used in Arizona has been employed with new intensity by Republicans in states like Texas, Florida and Georgia, where lawmakers over the past year passed legislation preempting the ability of city — and state — leaders to enforce their own regulations. The bigfooting of local officials accelerated as the pandemic turned public health decisions into political minefields, but it also also touched on other wedge issues, like police funding, gun control and climate change.

The move by GOP lawmakers represents a sharp ideological shift for a party that has long championed states rights and local control. Republicans, their influence growing in statehouses and shrinking in cities, see an opening to extend their reach into urban centers. And Democrats, typically the targets of these preemption laws, fear they could be left powerless.

“At the end of the day, we want to give community members the voice to have the policies and laws that they’re voting for local officials to make,” said Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director for the Center for City Solutions at the National League of Cities, a nonpartisan advocacy group generally opposed to preemption legislation.

“Giving local officials the space is that goal,” he said. “There shouldn’t be these big dichotomies in how policies are being made between state and local.”

As Republicans have maintained a tight hold on the majority of state legislatures, much of today’s preemption battles feature GOP-led assemblies handicapping Democratic-run cities. That dynamic is drawn from the stark partisan divide between statewide and local power: Republicans control 30 state legislatures while Democrats control 64 of the 100 biggest cities in the U.S.

Preemption fights are nothing new. State and local officials have been pitted against each other on what seems like every policy, from soda taxes to minimum wage increases to transgender rights. But in recent years, deep red states have latched onto preemption legislation more and more as a strategy to snatch away power from Democratic city leadership and rally their base.

Take Florida, where the Legislature this session pushed through several major preemption bills, starting with a high-profile “anti-protest” measure as part of the backlash to the Black Lives Matter movement. Buried within the law is a provision checking the ability of counties to redirect funding from police departments and giving the state’s governor the authority to review and reject those budget decisions. Lawmakers also enacted a proposal tightening an existing law forbidding local governments from approving any policies on guns.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, capitalizing on the conservative resistance to Covid-19 protocols, also issued an executive order waiving fines issued to businesses by local governments for violating Covid-related mandates and signed legislation allowing a governor to preempt local emergency rules.

And now, environmentalists took another hit after DeSantis this week signed a law that preempts local government decisions on energy and makes it difficult for cities to reduce fossil fuels by switching to renewable energy.

“It’s like there’s a competition out there for Florida to be the worst of the worst on these awful preemption laws,” said Brooke Errett, a senior organizer for Food and Water Watch Florida who lobbied against the bill.


Supporters say the bill, backed by oil and gas interests, shouldn’t deter cities from setting or achieving clean energy goals and is in fact needed to prevent them from cutting off natural gas used by homeowners or restricting consumer choice on energy.

Opponents don’t buy that. Rep Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) called the bill a “power play” by utilities and the fossil fuel industry at the expense of solar and other clean energy sources.

Preemption bills protecting fossil fuel interests have surged across the country, with legislation recently passing in 15 states, including Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa and Kentucky. Critics say these laws pose a serious threat to combating air pollution and climate change.

Republicans even succeeded in Kansas despite the state having a Democratic governor. Lamakers muscled through an energy bill this session that preempted parts of a town’s plan that set a goal of shifting all community energy use to renewable energy sources by 2035. It became law without Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s signature due to its passage with a veto-proof majority.

Colorado, which has a legislature controlled by Democrats, is going the opposite direction. Democratic lawmakers have been working to undo some of the major preemption laws on the books. They first repealed a state law prohibiting cities from enacting rules about gun ownership. It was proposed in the aftermath of a mass shooting at a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder in which 10 people were killed.

“Communities should be able to decide what are the right policies to keep them safe,” said Colorado Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, who led the bill’s passage.

The state also enacted a law to ban plastic bags and plastic foam containers used in restaurants and retail. It lifts a ban on local governments setting their own plastics regulations that are stricter than the states. From Pennsylvania to California, political clashes around eliminating widespread use of plastic bags and other single-use items have emerged as some of the most contentious preemption fights in recent memory.

Fenberg views Republicans’ aggressive approach to preemption as a “race to the bottom.”

This debate exposes how deep the ideological split is between the two parties. Republicans see themselves as defending personal choice and freedom, while Democrats argue they are actually the ones advancing those same principles by letting communities self-govern.

“Our job is to protect individuals and protect their liberty,” said North Dakota state Rep. Jeff Hoverson, a Republican who shepherded a law restricting state officials’ ability to enforce mask mandates. It was vetoed by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum, but the Legislature overrode it.

“We should be protecting them from not just state government and federal government but local government as well,” he said. “The government needs to have a lot more compelling case than it does to interfere. Really, the S.O.B.’s, they’re wrecking our country.”

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