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3 biggest election races to start watching ahead of 2024

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We can wait as long as possible to admit another campaign cycle has begun, or tackle it head-on with a matter-of-fact narrative like a character in Hemingway.

Today, we say the Here’s the Deal newsletter is “not made for defeat.” We’re taking the Hemingway approach.

Here is a lay of the land for three of the biggest races that are quickly taking shape.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat

DC: Senate Committee on the Judiciary business meeting

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., offers remarks during a Sept. 8 Senate Committee on the Judiciary business meeting in Washington, D.C. Photo by Rod Lamkey/CNP/Sipa USA

What a race Democrats have here. Or potentially have. The nation’s most populous state is a core part of their party’s strength nationally. (Consider: More than one-sixth of President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral votes came from California.)

The prospect that Sen. Dianne Feinstein might retire and leave her much-desired Senate seat open have led to careful, but clear jockeying by powerhouse Democrats. (Feinstein, 89, has kept her campaign active with the Federal Election Commission, but her staff has said that does not mean the senator will run next year.)

Not waiting to find out, Rep. Katie Porter was first to formally announce her bid one week ago. A whiteboard influencer and onetime Elizabeth Warren protege, Porter also has this credential: She raised more money in 2022 than any other House Democrat, including then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, according to Open Secrets.

But potential competitors include another big Democratic name and campaigning juggernaut — Rep. Adam Schiff. Sources familiar told the PBS NewsHour the former House Intelligence Committee chairman is still considering his decision.

The same is true for progressive Rep. Ro Khanna, who has said he is weighing a run as well. But Khanna has indicated he might step aside for yet another nationally known California Democrat: Rep. Barbara Lee.

Lee has won wide respect within the party for sticking to her beliefs, in particular her decision to cast the lone vote in 2001 against the war in Afghanistan.

California has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1988, raising the stakes and expectations for the Democratic primary if there is an opening. As The 19th has written, the California race “is sure to be one of the most expensive and most watched in the country.”

Montana Senate

Democratic Senators hold weekly news conference in Washington

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., speaks during a November news conference following the weekly Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Sarah Silbiger/Reuters

Now to a race where we expect some significant news for both parties in the next two weeks.

Sen. Jon Tester is a popular Democrat in a red state that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 by more than 16 points.

His is also a potential majority-making seat in a Senate where Democrats have a one-vote margin allowing them to govern.

Just before the holiday break, Tester told me he would spend this recess weighing and deciding whether he would run again.

But that is only one piece of the Big Sky drama. Likely hitting “refresh” on their “Jon Tester” alerts are the state’s two Republican members of the House.

Rep. Matt Rosendale just made headlines as one of the last holdouts in Kevin McCarthy’s quest to become speaker (he voted “present” in the end), while Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., is a former secretary of the interior who resigned from that office after multiple controversies but survived them — and an investigation — to win his congressional seat.

Summary: Three of Montana’s four members of Congress could all vie for the same Senate seat.

U.S. President

FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Trump holds rally in Georgia

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a March 26 rally in Commerce, Georgia. Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Reuters

Now to the big one — the 2024 presidential race.

Let’s start with what is currently the more simple side of the equation: the Democrats.

At the moment, they are operating under the assumption that Biden will formally announce he is running for reelection. Outlets report either a “coalescing” around that idea, as per CNN, or an imminent campaign launch, as per The Hill.

But for Republicans, a much more complicated set of dynamics is emerging.

So far only one major candidate has formally announced their bid: former President Trump. The early timing of his November announcement was a message to any Republicans toying with the idea of entering the race.

Thus far, no one else has made such a step. Yet. But much is afoot.

Here are the metrics by which we judge if a lawmaker is considering or about to enter the presidential race.

  • Are they working on or have they recently released a memoir?
  • Visits to key early-voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina or Florida?
  • Campaigning for other high-profile politicians?
  • National TV interviews all of a sudden?

There are potentially dozens of Republican candidates. But let’s focus on a few at this early point.

Ron DeSantis: At the moment, polls indicate Ron DeSantis is Trump’s most popular potential opponent. Even so, the Florida governor has shown steadfast discipline in staying silent about his 2024 thinking, refusing even to respond to goading by Trump. But, alert! His memoir is due out in February. And he’s been on the road lots, including to South Carolina in the past year.

Nikki Haley: She’s openly thinking about it. Haley, a former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina governor, told CBS she would spend the holiday season considering a 2024 run. (She wrote a memoir previously, in 2019, but she also published a book on leadership late last year.)

Larry Hogan: The newly former Maryland governor has said he wants to “be in position to run” if there is an opening. And he said that in New Hampshire. (Other visits last year included the legendary Iowa State Fair.)

Mike Pence: No announcement yet. But recently released memoir? Check. Iowa? Yep. S.C.? Yep. National TV interviews? Check. Check. In November, Trump’s former vice president said, “I think we’ll have better choices” than his former boss.

Mike Pompeo: The former secretary of state has said he will make a decision this spring and that it will not revolve around Trump. The signs point to a yes. His memoir is out this month. He has put broad issues-based ads online in Iowa and South Carolina. Pompeo spoke at an iconic New Hampshire event.

Most Republicans in the U.S. Senate: This is a large category, we know. But it is one that remains — at least inside the minds of the lawmakers at the Capitol — viable at any time. Those we are watching most closely for possible 2024 runs? Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Tom Cotton of Arkansas. (Among other major factors, both put out books within the last six months.)

Note that Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley has said he will not run for president in 2024. But we are still keeping an eye out, in case he feels compelled.