Republicans have spent much of the last year trying to recruit competitive contenders for 2022 U.S. Senate races, but without much luck. There was, however, one more dream candidate the party hoped to convince: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
As Republican leaders saw it, the two-term governor would be the most competitive candidate to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in the fall, and so they gave Ducey the hard sell. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell helped lead the lobbying effort, though even George W. Bush got involved, as the party desperately hoped to persuade the Arizonan.
It didn’t work. The Arizona Republic reported this morning:
Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey will not run for the U.S. Senate this year, he told donors in a letter obtained by The Arizona Republic, finally putting to rest whether he held aspirations for elected office this cycle. Ducey’s announcement to some of his closest financial allies ends the long-running effort by national and local Republican leaders and deep-pocketed donors to recruit him for the race against Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., whose reelection could decide which party controls the evenly divided chamber.
If the developments sound familiar, it’s not your imagination. A month ago, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also announced he was rebuffing his party’s overtures and would not launch a Republican Senate campaign. Before that, GOP leaders practically begged Gov. Chris Sununu to run in New Hampshire, and he also said no. Republicans also asked Gov. Phil Scott to run in Vermont, and he gave the same answer.
Now that Ducey has come to the same conclusion, the result is a rough tally for the National Republican Senatorial Committee: Four sitting governors were asked to run, and all four declined.
Remember, there’s ample evidence to suggest this will be a very good year for GOP candidates up and down the ballot, so it’s not as if these governors rejected party overtures because they faced electoral headwinds.
But as we recently discussed, there’s a problem Republicans have struggled to overcome: McConnell and his colleagues want to recruit the best possible candidates to run for Senate seats, but they’ve also created a chamber that the best possible candidates don’t want to be a part of. Sununu, in particular, very nearly launched a Senate campaign, right up until he talked to GOP senators about their governing plans — at which point the New Hampshire governor quickly moved in the opposite direction.
It very likely doesn't help that the party's effective leader is a failed former president, from whom none of these governors want to take orders.
The result of these failed recruiting attempts will likely be a Republican Party stuck with several nominees in competitive races who are both far from the American mainstream and difficult to take seriously.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll lose. It probably wouldn’t be appropriate to name names, but the Senate already has some Republican members who are far from the American mainstream and difficult to take seriously, but they got elected anyway.
But GOP leaders hoped to improve the party’s odds by recruiting governors who’d be well positioned to succeed. That initiative hasn’t worked.