Republican Sen. Tom Cotton is heading to Iowa this summer, but he won’t be campaigning for himself — at least not officially.
The potential 2024 contender is plotting a swing through the state — home of the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses — to stump for three freshmen House Republicans as part of a broader, two-year effort to bolster congressional candidates. Cotton, a former congressman who’s been in touch with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy about the midterm elections, has spoken with fellow veterans looking at waging campaigns and raised money for others. The Arkansas senator is even sketching out plans to air a barrage of TV ads for his endorsed candidates through a political action committee.
Cotton is part of a growing list of potential Republican presidential hopefuls diving head-first into the battle for the House majority in 2022. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo headlined a Tuesday evening fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Ex-U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley has endorsed a handful of female candidates and hosted receptions for newly elected GOP women in the House. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is backing a trio of conservative House candidates, including one for whom he’s cut a direct-to-camera video.
It’s the latest chapter in a slow-building 2024 shadow primary. By throwing themselves into House races, potential candidates are currying goodwill with lawmakers and activists, testing out campaign themes and introducing themselves to voters around the country who will eventually determine the party’s next presidential nominee.
And there is another reason why House races are attractive playground for those looking to run: It’s a way to put themselves out there without poking the eye of former President Donald Trump, who has made clear that he’s interested in a comeback bid.
“They’re trying to figure out, how do you lay the groundwork without being seen as maybe trying to push the president out of the way?” said former Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, a past NRCC chair, who noted that several of the potential candidates previously served in Trump’s administration. “Until President Trump decides what he’s going to do, I think they can be helpful in House races in their own ways and keep focused on that and not run afoul of the big elephant in the room.”
Likely 2024 candidates are interested in more than just House races. As the midterm election nears, would-be contenders are certain to engage in Senate and gubernatorial contests, too. Glenn Youngkin, the GOP nominee in this year’s race for Virginia governor, has received support from Cruz, Haley and others.
But the stakes are particularly high in the closely divided House, with Republicans appearing to be early favorites to win the speaker’s gavel given their broad control of redistricting and the historical tendency for the party out of power to gain seats in a president’s first midterm election.
“They recognize that the House majority is within our reach and want to be able to point to the money they raised and candidates they backed to help Republicans when we win the House,” said Dan Conston, the president of Congressional Leadership Fund, the principal pro-House GOP super PAC.