The losers: What happens now for GOP stars who missed the red wave

Kari Lake
FILE – Kari Lake, Republican candidate for Arizona governor, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Aug. 5, 2022. The Board of Supervisors in rural Cochise County in southeastern Arizona on Monday, Oct. 24 were debating a hand count of all ballots in the midterm election. A federal judge in August dismissed a lawsuit by Lake and Mark Finchem, Republican nominee for secretary of state, to require the state’s officials to count ballots by hand in November because of unfounded claims of voting machine problems. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) LM Otero/AP

The losers: What happens now for GOP stars who missed the red wave

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When a red wave failed to materialize on Election Day this year, a number of rising GOP stars found themselves locked out of positions that could have landed them among the next generation of Republican leaders.

Now, those with intentions to run again have at least two years to bide their time before jumping at another chance.

Such patience paid off for Rep.-elect John James (R-MI), whose back-to-back losses in the 2018 and 2020 Senate races in Michigan did not stop him from seeking and winning a House seat in 2022.

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James was long viewed within Republican circles as a star in need of his big break. A West Point graduate and Army veteran, James went on to become a businessman after serving in Iraq.

He kept a relatively low profile in the years between his campaigns and continued to draw on his work for his family business, James Group International.

“History is littered with candidates who fail to properly navigate the transition between public to private life and back again,” Colin Reed, a Republican strategist, told the Washington Examiner. “The first rule is do no harm: Don’t sign up for any positions or employment opportunities that create political headaches on future personal financial disclosures.”

Some Republicans have, in the past, pivoted almost immediately to their next attempt.

For example, after narrowly losing a House race for a seat in Orange County, California, in 2018, GOP Rep. Young Kim announced she would campaign again in the same district less than six months later. She won in 2020 and held on against a strong Democratic challenge again this cycle.

Reed said the latest crop of high-caliber losing candidates should next “find a way to stay relevant and newsy, offering smart opinions and thought leadership on winning issues while avoiding thorny fights.”

“It requires a combination of keeping appearances fresh with national media while also remaining ingrained in the fabric of the community you’re seeking to represent,” he added. “Without the natural platform of a day-to-day campaign and the staffing infrastructure, it requires staying nimble, creative, and opportunistic.”

Some GOP candidates who lost in November are already telegraphing their next moves.

In Michigan, failed gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon has floated running for state Republican Party chair after falling short of unseating Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Attractive and charismatic, Dixon gained widespread name recognition in Michigan after entering the GOP primary as a relatively unknown entity.

“All of these folks, Tudor Dixon included, have to be strategic about what’s next and not jump at whatever comes up first or the first opportunity that presents itself,” David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University in Michigan, told the Washington Examiner. “The first opportunity might not be the best opportunity.”

A number of Michigan Republicans have expressed optimism that Dixon could succeed in future campaigns should she choose to run for office in the state again.

“She’s getting huge crowds,” said former GOP state Rep. Kurt Heise to a local news station. “As a former state rep, I’ve never seen candidates for governor get crowds the way she has.”

Some promising candidates have in the past gone back to the local political posts that gave them their springboards for ambitious bids initially.

Allan Fung raised Republican hopes of breaking the Democrats’ hold on Rhode Island’s congressional delegation this cycle when he appeared to surge close to his Democratic opponent in a House race. He lost by less than 4 percentage points.

It was not the first time Fung gunned for higher office. He won the Republican nomination for governor in both 2014 and 2018, losing both times to the Democrat.

In between, he returned to his day job: serving as the four-term mayor of Cranston, Rhode Island, until last year, which allowed him to maintain a record on which to run in his future bids.

Yesli Vega came up short in her quest to unseat Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger in a northern Virginia congressional district that Republicans had viewed as a prime pickup opportunity. She lost by roughly 5 percentage points.

Vega still has another year left in her term as a member of the Prince Williams County Board of Supervisors, which could give her a perch from which to continue making an impact in the area.

Other big-name Republicans who lost this cycle are staying involved with the national party.

Blake Masters, who went down in defeat in Arizona’s Senate race, is serving on an advisory council commissioned by the Republican National Committee to analyze why the GOP performed so poorly this cycle.

Masters was critical of establishment Republicans throughout his race.

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Outgoing GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin, who vacated his New York congressional seat to launch an unsuccessful, but notably strong, challenge to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, has openly toyed with the prospect of running for RNC chair since conceding his race.

Dulio pointed to some former associates of Donald Trump as examples of politicians who have used their time out of office to reposition themselves for a possible bid for higher office.

“I even think about somebody like Mike Pence,” Dulio said. “He laid low and is now maybe trying to rebuild a brand to potentially vie for the nomination.”

But some celebrity-status Republican losers have spent the time since their losses arguably complicating their path to higher office in the future.

Kari Lake, who lost narrowly to Democrat Katie Hobbs in the Arizona governor’s race, has refused to concede and alleged widespread incompetence and fraud ruined the credibility of the results.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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