Trump picks underperform in governors races
What happened in Tuesday’s midterm elections
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis held firm to his office last night, beating former Gov. Charlie Crist by a wide margin—roughly 58 percent to 41. But supporters don’t expect him to stay in the governor’s mansion for very long. At his victory speech, they cheered, “two more years!” Though he never admitted it during the campaign, DeSantis’ reelection campaign was also a test of his support for a presidential bid in 2024.
Former President Donald Trump, though not on the ballot in 2022, also played a hand in last night’s results.
On the surface, Republicans made modest gains in U.S. governor’s mansions, but wins in Florida and Georgia could indicate a new direction for the party. And the margins of victory tell a story of their own. At the same time, Democratic successes kept Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Arizona blue, further solidifying their leftward trends.
DeSantis has garnered national headlines as governor for bucking Disney, relaxing COVID-19 restrictions earlier than other states, and shifting the once–swing state fully into Republican territory. Polls find him to be a strong 2024 presidential contender.
Jacob Perry has had more than 20 years of political campaign experience, and he recently started the Center Street PAC, based in Florida. The organization’s website says it is a nonpartisan committee “focused on promoting rational governance and combating extremism.” Perry said DeSantis’ win could be less about GOP popularity and more about Florida becoming a Republican stronghold.
“Nobody really accepted Charlie Crist as a Democrat even though he was elected to Congress as one. And so that pretty much doomed him,” Perry told me. “Besides, right now if you’re an elected Democrat in the Florida legislature, I’m not sure if it’s worth showing up for work. It’s a Republican stronghold, and that’s not going to change any time soon.”
But not all Republicans love DeSantis, according to Perry. The Trump and DeSantis factions might clash in the near future. Trump is teasing a “huge” announcement at his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, next week. Most expect him to confirm another presidential run.
“Donald Trump doesn’t even recognize any rules, let alone play by them,” Perry said. “He will burn everything down if it means keeping DeSantis from getting what he wants. They hate each other, and their rival camps hate each other.”
In the Georgia governor’s race, Trump went so far as to say far-left Democrat Stacey Abrams would be better than incumbent Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. Kemp resisted Trump’s requests for support in the vote count after the 2020 election, and Trump endorsed Kemp challenger David Perdue in the primaries. But then the night before Election Day, Trump included the governor’s name in a list of Republican candidates he read aloud at a rally in Ohio.
In 2020, Trump was the first Republican president not to win Georgia since 1992, and the state has shown his influence still might not count for much. Despite the ill will toward Kemp, the incumbent soared to victory with more than 53 percent of the vote, blocking Abrams for a second time. U.S. Senate GOP candidate Herschel Walker remains in a dead heat with incumbent Raphael Warnock, but the Trump endorsee is flagging in areas that Kemp carried.
Most Republican wins happened in already safe races. For example, Sarah Huckabee Sanders won her campaign to be Arkansas’ first female governor with more than 60 percent of the vote. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also defended his seat, winning by more than 10 points over Beto O’Rourke. Arizona candidate Kari Lake remains in a close fight with current Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. Arizona has started to lean blue, so the nailbiter race could indicate a political shakeup.
But other Trump favorites failed to deliver. Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano, one of the most far-right candidates on a midterm ballot, never strayed from his MAGA platform. He has repeated claims of rampant election fraud, called the COVID-19 pandemic a hoax, and received not only Trump’s endorsement but also personal campaigning time with the former president.
Nevertheless, Democrat Josh Shapiro is now the state’s first Jewish governor. The political gridlock between a Republican-led legislature and Democratic governor looks like it will continue.
Mastriano has not yet conceded to Shapiro. At an election night party, he insisted on waiting until every single vote was counted. At a ballroom in Grand Rapids, Mich., Republican candidate for governor Tudor Dixon said the same thing. The first-time office seeker surged in the polls after a nod from Trump and also ran on election fraud claims. While news outlets called the race for Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Dixon told supporters to wait.
“We don’t accept that Fox is calling this because we know that this is too close to call because there are so many more votes out there and we are going to get this done,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, Dixon called incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to concede.
Just a few months ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., decried low “candidate quality” in what should be a strong Republican election year. Some analysts now say he was right.
“Trump elevated damaged candidates simply because they would show fealty to him, not be the best choice to flip a seat from blue to red,” analyst Jessica Taylor wrote for the Cook Political Report Wednesday morning. “Republicans should blame him for snatching possible defeat from the jaws of victory, but will there be any real backlash?”
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