STATESIDE: Predicting the future as 2024 race begins to build

THE SENATE, where the Democrats increased their margin - but will have to defend more seats next year than the GOP.

THE SENATE, where the Democrats increased their margin - but will have to defend more seats next year than the GOP.

With Charlie Harper

JUST about two years ago, there was a forecast in this space as to how the 2022 US Senate races would unfold. The prediction at that time was that the Democratic party would actually gain two seats as the result of this past November’s election. That would have given them a 52-48 advantage, basically immunising the Dems from the whimsical loyalties of Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kristen Sinema of Arizona, two noted mavericks.

That prediction was based upon three essential ideas: First, that incumbents basically always win. Second, that the open seat in Pennsylvania created by the retirement of Republican Pat Toomey would revert to the Democrats. Third, that incumbent Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin would be voted out of office in a notoriously independent thinking swing state. The third tenet contradicted the first.

The first two notions were upheld, thanks in no small part to the unhelpful interventions of Donald Trump. In the end, the Democrats increased their margin in the Senate by just one, giving them a 51-49 edge. But with Johnson’s triumph, every single incumbent in either party was re-elected. And except for Pennsylvania, the party of the retiring senator held on to the open seat.

Still, the Democrats will be defending more seats next year than the GOP, so opportunities are there for “flipping” seats in red states with Democratic incumbents like West Virginia (Manchin), Ohio and Montana.

Commentators are turning to the 2024 elections by breathlessly heralding the onset just twelve months hence of the first round of primaries before things start to really roll in March of next year. While it’s a little premature to speculate on what will happen in the Senate races next year, there is an emerging picture of the presidential race.

Basically, while he probably won’t formally announce his intentions for five or six months, President Joe Biden will, barring health - or age-related setbacks, run for re-election. There is no viable alternative to Biden in the Democratic ranks at present, and a growing sense that he is doing a satisfactory to good job in office. He remains popular personally, has shown an unanticipated ability to push through major, even transcendent, legislation, and, of paramount importance, he already beat Trump.

Potential dissidents are backing off. The head of the House Democratic progressive caucus said “at this point, I don’t think a candidacy from someone else would do anything other than weaken the president. And why would you want to do that headed into an election that’s going to be close?”

The president of the Young Democrats of America has been critical of Biden in the past, but recently said he’s “good” if Biden wants to run again. “We’re not always going to be super enthused, but we’re going to show the hell up,” he said. “We’re obligated because we know what happens if the GOP wins could be something even scarier than January 6.”

A national columnist published ten days ago what many felt to be a shameless puff piece about Vice President Kamala Harris, headlined “2022 Was Great for Harris”. This contradicts inside-the-Washington-beltway conventional wisdom, but Biden has signaled his intention to again choose her as his running mate.

For the Republicans, it’s a different and familiar story at the same time. Remember 2016? Those crowded debate stages with all sorts of characters you had never heard of, and have hardly heard of since, crowding around a tall, blond, central figure who knocked off every one of them. The nicknames. The bullying. The shouting over each other. It was raucous, rancorous, and, astoundingly, successful. Trump prevailed, smashing all sorts of precedents during and after his election.

Then he lost four years later, in a stunning repudiation.

Trump declared two months ago his third candidacy for president. Again, there are many challengers. There are reports that as many as ten Republicans are actively weighing 2024 presidential bids in open defiance of Trump, emboldened by the growing belief that the former president is as politically vulnerable as he’s ever been.

That’s fine, and it makes for provocative headlines. But this already looks like 2016 all over again. Trump has begun to go on the attack against his rivals. This approach worked spectacularly well six years ago, and it would be unwise to assume it won’t work just as well again. Also, and importantly, Trump appears to maintain a stranglehold on the loyalty of the 35 percent of the party’s most active voters, who will once again likely dominate GOP primary contests.

Still, voters will have several options in a likely field that features Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, former Indiana congressman and Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, outgoing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and others, including Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rick Scott of Florida. Most have already begun actively making the rounds of donor dinners and policy fora, and also trying to get organized and established in early states on the presidential primary calendar.

But the reality remains that all those named, except Hogan, achieved their greatest fame and notoriety while Trump was president. He was the predominant figure. Trump may be stumbling around now trying to get his feet under him for another White House run, but recent history has clearly shown that once he hits his stride, he’s a tough man to beat. History has also shown that American voters have astoundingly short memories, and it’s a fair bet that many will have forgotten or trivialized the January 6 hearings, the tax return release, the potential criminal charges against him and his family businesses and other sensational revelations by the time primary season rolls around next year.

Meantime, there’s a GOP contest later this month that will bear watching. That’s when the Republicans will select a chair for the Republican National Committee. The incumbent, Ronna McDaniel, is seeking another term. She is Mitt Romney’s niece and has been all-in to support Republican nominees, but her failure to preemptively back Trump this time has alienated him. Also, Republicans have underperformed expectations in 2018, 2020 and 2022 during her period as chair, so a change might be indicated.

Trump has a candidate. It is California attorney Harmeet Dhillon, the India-born chair of Women for Trump. MAGA loyalists will battle prominent establishment Republicans in this contest, and many will look to the results to assess the chances of defeating the former president.

A major question for Republicans this year will be whether the success of 2016 or the failure of 2020 is more likely if Trump is their nominee. The MAGA zealots won’t care. But the GOP more generally wants to regain power and sees Biden as vulnerable, even given the success incumbents, including presidents, enjoy in US elections.

No one will want a repeat of what just happened in November when Trump’s candidates generally lost in elections Republicans felt they could have won. The director of the Senate GOP’s leading political action committee has vowed to “play a much more assertive role” in shaping future Senate contests. And the incoming head of the Senate Republican campaign effort has said that his committee will actively participate in Republican primaries to ensure that candidates prevail who can be more competitive in general elections than were Trump’s choices. It should all be fascinating.


IN CASE you missed it, the US State Department announced December 23 the relaxation of certain non-immigrant visa interview requirements. Consular officers can now continue to waive in-person interviews on a case-by-case basis throughout 2023 for certain first-time and/or renewing applicants.

These categories of visas are “for Temporary Agricultural and Non-Agricultural Workers (H-2 visas), Students (F and M visas), and Academic Exchange Visitors (academic J visas), and certain beneficiaries of approved individual petitions for nonimmigrant temporary worker visas in the following categories: Persons in Specialty Occupations (H-1B visas), Trainee or Special Education Visitors (H-3 visas), Intracompany Transferees (L visas), Individuals with Extraordinary Ability or Achievement (O visas), Athletes, Artists, and Entertainers (P visas), and Participants in International Cultural Exchange Programs (Q visas); and qualifying derivatives.”

“The authorisation to waive the in-person interview for applicants renewing a visa in the same classification within 48 months of the prior visa’s expiration was previously authorised to remain in place until further notice.”


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