- The Washington Times
Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sen. Rand Paul is headed north to Cleveland this weekend — but not for the pierogies.

The Kentuckian is trekking to Ohio to throw his political might behind Mike Gibbons’ bid for the competitive Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.

Mr. Paul is among a group of high-profile Republicans making moves in the 2022 midterm elections in a way that seizes the media’s attention, boosts their appeal among grassroots activists and maybe helps the party seize power in Congress.

Welcome to the early jockeying among the potential 2024 presidential contenders.

Searching for street cred with voters, the early underdogs are rushing to lift candidates across the country through their endorsements, public appearances and fundraising events.

Nikki Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, will go to Iowa next week to deliver the keynote address at the state Republican Party‘s biggest fundraiser of the year.

Former Vice President Mike Pence will cruise into Iowa next month to lend his hand in the fight for control of the House.

Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas have been making noise on the endorsement front. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also has been lending his support to Republican candidates.

“The shadow primary is on,” said Craig Robinson, a veteran Republican Party strategist based in Iowa. “This cycle is different because of the presence of former President Trump. He casts a long shadow on it.”

Hours earlier, Mr. Trump issued the statement: “ICYMI: ‘It’s Donald Trump’s Party.’”

Mr. Trump led the party when it lost both chambers of Congress and the White House. He has shaken up races with his endorsements, including in North Carolina, where he is backing Rep. Ted Budd’s bid in a high-profile race that will help determine whether Democrats maintain control of the 50-50 Senate.

Polls show Mr. Trump is the most beloved of the possible 2024 candidates. He is often followed in popularity by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who has, according to his staff, been focused on his reelection race in 2022.

“After Trump and DeSantis, you have all these other people who are trying to carve out space,” Mr. Robinson said.

“From what I am seeing, there are people who have a lot of work to do if they want to be viewed as strong contenders in this presidential race.”

The dynamic has upped the ante on Mr. Pence.

Mr. Pence plans to return to the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa to headline Rep. Randy Feenstra’s inaugural Feenstra Family Picnic at the Dean Classic Car Museum in Sioux Center.

The Pence itinerary includes an appearance at The Family Leader’s Family Leadership Summit in Des Moines. Mr. Pompeo and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem are scheduled to appear at the event for Christian values advocates.

Mr. Pompeo is scheduled to deliver a speech next week at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Texas. The event is sure to be packed with evangelicals, a crucial bloc in Republican primary contests. 

The Pence pilgrimage to Iowa marks his first trip to the state since the 2020 presidential election campaign. It will provide another snapshot of whether Trump supporters still like him after he refused to go all-in on Mr. Trump’s unproven claims that Democrats stole the election.

Mr. Pence received a warm welcome this month when he delivered the keynote address at the annual Lincoln-Reagan Dinner hosted by the Hillsborough County Republicans in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“I came here to say the time is now for every patriotic American who shares our ideals and values to stand up and fight back against the agenda of the radical left,” Mr. Pence said.

He said he has learned from Mr. Trump.

“I think President Trump shows what Republicans can accomplish when our leaders stand firm on conservative principles and don’t back down.”

Mr. Pence also launched the Advancing American Freedom political advocacy group, signed on to fundraising solicitations from the National Republican Congressional Committee and headlined a pair of fundraisers with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.

He has endorsed former Trump White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ bid for governor in Arkansas and the reelection bids of Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Todd Young of Indiana.

The slate of possible White House hopefuls has been giving a lot of attention to Iowa four years after Mr. Cruz emerged victorious in the caucuses and Mr. Trump finished second.

Ms. Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, is slated to be in Iowa for the first time this year when she headlines the state Republican Party‘s annual Lincoln Day dinner in Des Moines.

She has established the Stand for America PAC, which will serve as her vehicle to help House and Senate candidates. She also threw her support behind Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who has yet to formally announce her reelection bid, and Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin in Virginia.

In addition to the money she has raised for her PAC, she helped pull in $250,000 for Republicans running in various races. She has endorsed or held fundraisers for eight female members of the House seeking reelection.

“Taking back the House and Senate and electing GOP governors is Ambassador Haley‘s top priority,” said Haley spokesperson Charlie Denton. “She is laser-focused on the 2022 election cycle. Through SFA PAC, she’s supporting conservative fighters who believe that America is inherently good and have the courage to speak up even in the toughest environments.”

Mr. Pompeo recently launched the Champion American Values political action committee and was the first of the likely presidential contenders to show up in Iowa. He headlined the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale.

“There is an important checkpoint between now and 2024. These elections in 2022 will have a real impact on how 2024 ultimate goes as well,” Mr. Pompeo said. “It is why I am here today. It is why I am going to continue to go out and campaign.”

He added: “If we get 2022 right, 2024 will solve itself.”

Mr. Pompeo has been busy making endorsements. He backed Republicans running in New York, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. He also backed the gubernatorial bids of Mrs. Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas and Rep. Lee Zeldin in New York.

Mr. Cruz has supported Rep. Ken Buck’s reelection race in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District and Amanda Adkins in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, along with two female contenders in Texas: Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez in the 15th Congressional District and Susan Wright in the 6th Congressional District.

“I’m confident that Susan will work with me and strong conservatives to secure the border, to rebuild our economy and to bring our Texas values to the Washington swamp,” Mr. Cruz said on social media this week.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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