Midterms 2018

Kingmaker Trump Racks Up Impressive Endorsement Record

Pending outcome of Kansas gubernatorial race, president could be 14 for 14 in Republican primaries since June

President Donald Trump this week took a victory lap after two candidates he endorsed appeared to pull out close victories.

Both races — a special election for a seat in the House of Representatives in Ohio and the GOP primary for governor in Kansas — remain too close to call after Election Day. Regardless of the ultimate outcome in those individual contests, however, Trump has racked up a remarkable record of presidential endorsements in Republican primaries.

By The Washington Post’s count, he will be 14 for 14 in party primary endorsements since June if Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach hangs onto a slim lead in his race for governor.

“5 for 5!” Trump tweeted on Wednesday, referring to the five candidates he endorsed head of Tuesday’s elections.

In addition to Kobach, Trump also backed Josh Hawley for the Senate in Missouri, Bill Schuette for governor in Michigan, John James for the Senate in that state, and Lena Epstein, who is running for the House from Michigan. Troy Balderson, the House candidate in Ohio, faced off against a Democrat because it was a special election.

Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign manager, credited the president with those results.

“Clearly, the president’s support was pivotal in GOP primaries yesterday, where we nominated exceptional candidates in states including Michigan and Missouri, and Kansas, where he endorsed the likely victor in the primary for governor,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

The endorsements have run the gamut. It includes Establishment Republicans who had been lukewarm to him, such as Rep. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican who had abandoned Trump in 2016 after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged showing him making lewd comments about women 11 years before. With Trump’s backing, Roby beat back a primary challenge last month.

The president also has backed loyalists who have been some of his biggest supporters. Florida has not yet held its primary, but Rep. Ron DeSantis — one of the president’s most ardent supporters in the House — got a boost in the polls after Trump endorsed him for governor.

Bryan Lanza, a political strategist who served as a spokesman on Trump’s transition team after the 2016 election, told LifeZette that Trump’s influence among the party faithful exceeds that of a typical president.

“President Trump is a force in the Republican Party,” he said. “Voters are actually looking for the Trump candidate.”

Skeptics contend that Trump has padded his record by jumping onboard campaigns that already appear well on their way to victory. Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at Kansas University, said he suspects that was the case with the Kobach endorsement — which Trump made over the objections of Kansas Republicans and the Republican Governors Association.

In four public polls since February, however, Kobach led in only one of them against sitting Gov. Jeff Colyer.

“That endorsement, while not a surprise [given Trump’s close personal relationship with Kobach], could very well have helped him in that close race,” said Eric Ostermeier, a political science researcher at the University of Minnesota.

The contest remains in limbo. After officials corrected a reporting error, Kobach’s lead shrunk on Thursday to just 91 votes.

Colyer told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Thursday that he will wait for mail-in and provisional ballots to be counted before asking for a recount. He brushed aside a question about the impact of Trump’s endorsement.

“You know, I don’t know what that did,” he said. “We haven’t even started to evaluate these things, because the vote hasn’t been counted yet. We want to make sure everybody gets their vote counted. I support the president. I’m a Republican. I will support the Republican nominee.”

Ostermeier, founder of the Smart Politics blog, said Trump has involved himself in party primaries much more than most other presidents, who typically steer clear of such intra-party squabbles. He said Trump’s endorsements have not tended to be based on ideology. He said Trump is more likely to get involved early when he feels one candidate has slighted him.

“That gets his attention, but if it’s just two Republican candidates, it’s my sense he’s waited until very late when it’s clear [who will win], because Trump likes winners,” he said.

Ostermeier pointed to Katie Arrington, whom Trump endorsed by tweet on the afternoon of the South Carolina primary. She went on to defeat Rep. Mark Sanford in the congressional primary.

“In the tallies of Trumps endorsements, I wonder if they include the number of days — or in the South Carolina case, hours — they came before the polls closed,” he said.

“If they want to be successful in the fall, they need to be talking about the success of this president.”

Ostermeier compared Trump’s endorsements to former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who took more risks and promoted Republican candidates from a narrower ideological segment of the party.

“She came out pretty early in endorsing candidates and took political risks in what her track record would be,” he said.

Trump has not always won. He endorsed Sen. Luther Strange (R-Ala.), only to watch him lose a primary to former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore. Then Moore, after Trump endorsed him for the general election, lost a Senate special election in December to Democrat Doug Jones.

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Trump-endorsed Rick Saccone also lost a special election to Democrat Conor Lamb for a House seat in Pennsylvania.

Those results suggest that a Trump endorsement could be a liability in some districts in the fall. But Lanza, the former Trump transition team spokesman, said Republican candidates need the enthusiasm Trump generates with the party’s base.

“If they want to be successful in the fall, they need to be talking about the success of this president,” he said.

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PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected].