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Monday, December 11, 2023

EXCLUSIVE – NRSC Chair Steve Daines says he's on the 'same page' as Donald Trump as they work to flip the Senate to Republicans: Kari Lake will win Arizona if she 'focuses' on Independent voters and avoids 'past grievances,' the top Republican says

After the ‘disaster’ last election cycle, top Republican Sen. Steve Daines is taking the Senate GOP‘s campaign arm in a new direction, and insists he and Donald Trump are on the same page about propping up winnable candidates. 

‘The clearest path to being in the majority, that’s in the United States Senate,’ the Montanan said in an interview at his National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) office. 

‘We’ve got three red states where Democrats have to defend an incumbent: that’s Ohio, that’s West Virginia, that’s Montana.’  

With a promising map ahead of them, Daines knows success will hinge on the NRSC and Trump working in lockstep to clear the path for their handpicked candidates. 

Last cycle the NRSC, under Sen. Rick Scott, Fla., took a more laissez-faire approach to Republican primaries. Trump, for his part, backed a number of primary candidates that did not have wider appeal in a general election in swing states, like Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania

Daines however declined to lay any blame on Trump. 

‘We talk frequently, we talk back and forth about what’s going on the country. We talk a lot about Senate races,’ Daines said of his relationship with the former president. 

After the ‘disaster’ last election cycle, top Republican Sen. Steve Daines is taking the Senate GOP ‘s campaign arm in a new direction, and insists he and Donald Trump are on the same page about propping up winnable candidates

But there’s a question how much Trump and his endorsement will help in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada and Wisconsin. 

‘You can see President Trump has really been great. He’s endorsed Jim Justice there in West Virginia, that I think led to Joe Manchin decision to retire. So we’re on the same page as we’re working through the Senate races.’ 

This cycle, the campaign group has gotten far more involved to muscle out candidates they don’t see as viable in both a primary, where Trumpist conservatives often rein supreme, and a general election where they need independent votes. 

When former Rep. Peter Meijer, who voted to impeach Trump, jumped into the Michigan Senate primary earlier this month, the NRSC immediately came out swinging with a warning that voters would not be ‘enthused’ about him in a general election. 

Reflecting on 2022, ‘I mean, that was a disaster,’ Daines said. 

Republicans only narrowly won the House and Democrats took control of the Senate, despite historic midterm tailwinds for the party that does not control the White House. 

‘I hate to lose, I like to win,’ he added, recalling the missteps he identified as opportunity for change when he took on his leadership role. 

‘I started with candidate recruitment, making sure we could find candidates that could appeal not just to the Republican base, but also the independent voters because that’s what’s gonna decide this election,’ Daines said. ‘Elections aren’t decided on Election Day, they’re decided on filing day.’

In one race, Arizona’s Kari Lake lost a statewide election last cycle, and yet has picked up a Trump endorsement. The NRSC, while it has not officially weighed in, followed with high praise for Lake.

Kari Lake is the lading GOP candidate for Arizona's open Senate seat

Kari Lake is the lading GOP candidate for Arizona’s open Senate seat 

‘She’s one of the most talented politicians we have running in the 2024 cycle,’ Daines said. 

Trump took a liking to Lake when as the gubernatorial candidate in 2022 she aggressively pedaled his own election fraud claims from 2020. 

Lake, who has not yet conceded she did not win the governor’s race in 2022, scored Trump’s backing the day she jumped into the race in October. Days later she got the support of another Senate Republican in leaderhip – John Barrasso, Wyo. 

Daines, for his part, insists Lake ‘will be the nominee’ in Arizona and says the two have become ‘friends.’ 

He offered her advice: ‘I think what Kari is doing and will need to continue to do is focus on the issues looking forward the issues independent voters care most about the high price of gas, high price of groceries out of control, southern border, the crime that’s running rampant, the weakness of the Biden administration.’ 

‘If she stays focused on the issues that voters care about going forward here, especially independent voters, she’s going to win that race in Arizona.’

In Washington, Daines serves as a bridge between Trump and the Senate GOP’s leader Mitch McConnell. Despite working closely together in Trump’s first administration, the two have severed any ties. 

Two alarming public freeze-ups in a matter of months prompted questions of how much longer 81-year-old McConnell’s time in leadership would last. 

Daines defended McConnell and insisted it’s ‘up to him’ whether he continues to lead Senate Republicans beyond 2024 – and possibly try his hand at working with Trump in the White House again. 

‘Those two freeze-ups he had, he’s been very clear about what happened there. They were really the after-effects of a concussion he had back in March,’ Daines said. ‘I serve with him every day. He’s very sharp, and it’s crisp and snarky as ever.’

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