Romney urges Biden to retire

As Mitt Romney's cell phone started ringing incessantly in the minutes following his Wednesday retirement announcement, he silenced it and lamented during an interview that President Joe Biden shouldn’t run for reelection.

Just five minutes after Romney said that, he got a phone call that he couldn’t ignore: It was Biden.

“There are certain calls you do have to take,” Romney said after speaking with the president for what sounded like a friendly and upbeat conversation. (It took place off the record.)

The moment encapsulated Romney’s short but productive Senate career, one in which he fought Trumpism within the GOP and found a way to work with Biden despite vast ideological differences. Biden spent a year drilling Romney as “out of touch” and uncompromising during the 2012 presidential campaign, yet the now-president was among the first in line to wish the Utahn well.

Though Romney was undecided until recently on 2024, he said he concluded that a rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump would be too much to bear. Biden sells himself as a deal-cutter, but Romney said either a second Biden or Trump term would do little to advance big legislation on the debt, climate change and challenging foreign adversaries.

Romney made clear that he broadly prefers Biden to Trump. While he's "not a Biden supporter," Romney said he simply "can't vote for Donald Trump." But that's as far as he would go on the topic — if Democrats are hoping for a Biden endorsement from him, they won't get any.

“I don't see the leadership coming from either person. Now, I may kick myself if we end up nominating someone in my party besides Trump,” Romney said in a 30-minute interview.

He added a hope that "the White House will listen to David Ignatius," referring to the most recent columnist who called for Biden to not pursue a second term.

Trump, of course, has mutual disdain for Romney and almost certainly would have tried to stop him from winning a second term. Romney’s approval ratings are up within his own party, but he would have faced a primary challenge.

He's confident he could have won again, as most retiring senators claim to be, but clearly had no interest in following the path of Sen. Lisa Murkowski's (R-Alaska) laborious but successful reelection bid last year against a Trump-inspired challenger.

Why not do it to prove Republicans can beat back Trumpism? “You don't spend six years of your life just to prove a point,” he answered.

That connects to Romney’s other reason to count his legislative wins on his way out: age. He may not look 76, but he’s keenly aware of where he stacks up on actuarial charts and Senate history.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) might be able to serve until he’s 120, Romney quipped, but he wants to pass the torch because he sees his generation as “pulling the wool over the generation of the younger people” by piling up the national debt.

He also sees serving in the Senate as an octogenarian as risky; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is 90 and in clear decline, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell suffered a damaging concussion earlier this year. Three senators close in age to Romney — Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) — all decided to call it quits this Congress, too.

“I look at Biden, and I look at McConnell and I say, 'OK, these are guys in their early 80s,” Romney said. “I'd be in my mid-80s. It’s not like I have to have this job for my ego and my self-esteem.”

It’s hard to imagine a first-term senator having more impact than Romney, whose long political career started nearly 30 years ago in a failed Senate bid with a lineage that goes back to his father, a former governor of Michigan and presidential candidate. Romney played both of those roles as well, governing Massachusetts and winning his party’s presidential nod in 2012.

If politicians are remembered for what they did most recently, however, Romney’s lone term stacks up with just about anyone’s first six years in the Senate. Yet, he's skeptical that he’ll be remembered much at all.

“There won't be 1 percent of Americans who ever heard of Mitt Romney, other than my many descendants,” he said, referring to his 25 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild. “I see myself as a footnote in history. And, you know, life goes on.”

That said, it’s tough to tabulate his ups and downs in the Senate. He quickly became a go-to senator for both colleagues and reporters, weighing in on crises within his own party that others wouldn't touch.

Just this year, at the State of the Union address, he personally and publicly chastised Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) for fabrications. He’s got a quirky, self-deprecating sense of humor that never came through in his presidential runs but is on vivid display in the Senate.

Then there’s his legislative cupboard, which is stocked. He cast the lone GOP vote to convict Trump in the former president's first impeachment trial, joined multiple bipartisan gangs during the pandemic and voted to convict in a second Trump trial. Romney followed that with central roles in historic deals on infrastructure, gun safety, same-sex marriage protection and election reform designed to prevent another Jan. 6-style insurrection.

His biggest missed opportunity, he said, is not passing his so-called Trust Act, which would establish rescue committees for federal trust funds. Romney is often characterized as a GOP moderate, but he’s still fiscally conservative and remains miffed that neither Trump nor Biden talk about shoring up entitlement programs.

When it comes to post-Congress life, he has three books (“not political,” he hastens to add) that he’d like to finish writing. He might speak to college campuses or perhaps even teach.

But in the end, he's confident that he’s already experienced his high-water mark as a senator.

“My last four-and-a-half years, I was kind of spoiled,” Romney said. “And if I can't get stuff done, I'm not the kind of guy that wants to be around here voting no on everything.”

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McConnell episode alarms Senate GOP

Mitch McConnell’s sudden freeze during a Wednesday afternoon press conference jolted the Senate Republican Conference, eliciting hopes from allies, detractors that he will fully recover from any health issues.

And President Joe Biden even called his old senatorial colleague to check on him.

"I told him I got sandbagged," McConnell said, a reference to Biden's public fall over a sandbag earlier this year. "I'm fine. I'm fine, that's the important part. Got to watch those sandbags."

The Senate minority leader abruptly stopped his opening remarks at an afternoon press conference on Wednesday, causing alarm when he left for a few minutes and then returned to answer questions. A McConnell aide said the senator was feeling light-headed. McConnell returned to the press conference and took questions from reporters.

“My prayers are with him. That obviously was concerning. I hope it was just a momentary issue and that he's doing better,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has tangled politically with McConnell for a decade. “Mitch is strong as hell and stubborn as a mule. I have every hope that he will fight back from any health issues and fully recover.”

The Senate minority leader only got through a few words of his speech about the chamber's annual defense bill, then trailed off and stared straight ahead for a few seconds as his fellow senators asked if he was OK. A few minutes later, his office provided a brief explanation of what happened, though it’s not clear if McConnell received any medical treatment.

“I just hope he’s doing OK. We really all hope he’s doing OK,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who was next to McConnell during the press event. “I was just concerned, I want to make sure everybody is well.”

McConnell, 81, suffered a concussion in March following a fall and returned to his duties in April. He has since gone about his job as usual, though he has occasionally struggled to hear reporters’ questions at weekly press availabilities.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy met with McConnell later on Wednesday afternoon. Asked if he was concerned about McConnell's health, he replied: "No, and this was after the incident." Cruz said that he has seen “no indication” internally that McConnell is not able to perform all his job duties.

It’s a sentiment shared across the Republican Conference.

“Something happened. It looks like he had about 20 seconds there ... his staff indicated that he felt a little lightheaded, that’s happened to all of us,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “Mitch has been fine, same old self. He did have a concussion and a concussion will put you down, but he’s been fine. Whatever happened, he’ll explain it.”

During the press conference, the GOP leader waved off a subsequent question regarding who would succeed him in leading the conference. McConnell has served as head of the Senate GOP since 2007 and faced his first challenge last fall, handily defeating Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).

Cruz opposed McConnell during that race and on Wednesday declined to weigh in on who might succeed the GOP leader.

“I understand he was a little lightheaded, but returned to answer questions. So I have no reason to believe he's not doing well,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former whip who has expressed interest in at some point being GOP leader. “I’m not going to head down that road. I’ll support Sen. McConnell as long as he wants to continue to serve.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who works closely with McConnell, said he wished the minority leader well.

After returning to Wednesday's press conference, the Kentucky Republican took questions on topics ranging from congressional spending to Hunter Biden to the possibility of the GOP House impeaching President Joe Biden. He said he was “not surprised” House Republicans would look at impeaching Biden after former President Donald Trump was twice impeached.

“We had not one but two impeachments, and once we go down this path, it incentivizes the other side to do the same thing,” McConnell said. “This is not good for the country. To have repeated impeachment problems.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), another possible successor to McConnell, said McConnell has “made a remarkable recovery, he’s doing a great job leading our conference.”

“He was able to answer every question that the press asked him today," Barrasso added. "And you may note, he answered more questions than he normally does.”

Jordain Carney, Katherine Tully McManus and Alex Daugherty contributed to this report.

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The Senate GOP’s quiet but mighty Trump skeptics

Squint hard, and you might just see the outlines of an anti-Donald Trump coalition forming in the Senate GOP.

It started coming together well before the former president’s latest indictment, when seven Republican senators voted to convict after his second impeachment trial. Now as the party’s 2024 primary field is nearly set, Republican discomfort with Trump is coming more into focus.

Trump leads the field in Senate GOP endorsements, with 10 officially on board and potentially more on the way. But some Republican senators are quietly making moves: Four have endorsed non-Trump candidates, a couple more say they want a different nominee, several others grimace when asked about his electoral prospects and even some staunch defenders are staying formally neutral so far.

That includes Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), a longtime Trump ally who — as of now — will only say that "I've endorsed his policies.”

“An official endorsement, I have not. I've been pretty clear I'd like to see someone articulate for the Republican Party what we're going to do policy-wise,” added Braun, who’s running for governor of his bright-red state. He said he wouldn’t endorse one of Trump's rivals and is waiting for the former president’s approach to “crystallize.”

In total, the number of senators who say they want someone other than Trump or who voted to bar him from office is equal to the number endorsing him. And while the primary won’t be won in the Senate GOP, Trump’s critics there represent a considerable swath of the party base, including donors, that want a different standard-bearer to take on President Joe Biden.

Take Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), who won his seat in 2016 with Trump on the ballot and then ran the Senate GOP’s campaign arm alongside Trump in 2020. He has exactly one criteria in mind for a GOP presidential endorsement: “Whoever can beat Trump.”

Inside the Senate, the former president has already lost the Dakotas. Both South Dakota senators, Minority Whip John Thune and Mike Rounds, are backing Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Thune’s the highest-ranking Republican lawmaker who has endorsed in the primary.

And the two North Dakota senators, Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven, are supporting Gov. Doug Burgum (R-N.D.). Hoeven didn’t explicitly connect that to worries about Trump’s electability, saying instead that Burgum is “a success at everything he does.”

“Our conference consists of smart people who realize that any nominee other than Trump is likely to win. And Trump is at best a 50/50 shot and most likely, less than 50/50. So, in their heart of hearts, they would love to see someone besides Trump be our nominee,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the only GOP senator who voted to convict Trump in both impeachment trials.

On the other hand, Romney acknowledged, Senate Republicans “also recognize he's overwhelmingly the favorite [in the primary]. And there's no upside in going out and saying that.”

Reflecting that attitude, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to say Tuesday whether he would support Trump if he earned the Republican nomination, or whether Trump did anything wrong: "I simply am not going to start commenting on the various candidates we have for president."

The Kentuckian has not spoken to Trump since the 2021 Capitol riot. Former whip and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who's close to McConnell, says the GOP needs to “do better” than Trump in order to win a general election.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) chose her words carefully, saying she wants Scott’s forward-looking message to be “elevated” in the primary and that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), who has no Senate endorsements, “has hit upon issues people want addressed in this election cycle.”

Lummis doesn’t plan to endorse yet, but she’s attaching a warning label to Trump’s potential nomination.

“If Trump is our nominee, I’ll support him. But it’s so difficult to talk about him in the context of issues because he’s so wrapped up in legal proceedings,” she concluded, adding that her constituents don’t think much of the 37-count federal indictment.

Many Senate Republicans, even those not backing Trump, railed against the DOJ charging him with improperly retaining highly sensitive materials. But that’s not a unanimous view, and a significant number of GOP senators see Special Counsel Jack Smith's case as damaging.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the No. 5 GOP leader, said that post-indictment, Trump’s looking at general-election prospects that could differ from his pole position in the primary: “He seems to have hardened, at least early on, his support in the primary. I don’t know if it stays or not.”

“These are serious charges. And they need to be taken seriously by everybody. And as these things unfold, they tend to get bigger because there's additive information,” Capito said of the most recent indictment. Politically, she added, “I think it'll be difficult for him.”

Senate Republicans did not talk about the indictment at their party lunch on Tuesday, according to two people familiar with the discussion who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Just two of the GOP senators who objected to certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama and Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, are officially backing Trump. The other Trump backers are mostly first-termers, save for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who chairs the conference's campaign arm this election cycle. Trump’s base of support on Capitol Hill remains the House, where he’s racked up endorsements and seen just a handful of defections.

Tuberville conceded Senate Republicans are divided on Trump 2024 and said “that’s fine” — for now.

“When all is said and done, if we're not all on the same page, we can't win. And you got people that dislike President Trump for this and that,” Tuberville said. “We all gotta forget the past experiences and go on."

Another Republican senator who objected to Biden’s certification, John Kennedy of Louisiana, said he’s not even talking about the primary for the moment: “I don’t have anything for you on that.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a leader of those objection efforts, said simply: “I’m going to stay out of it.”

Yet no Republican senator who voted to convict Trump at his impeachment trials is offering an endorsement yet either, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Romney said that at some point he “may endorse someone, but at this stage it would be the kiss of death.”

Describing his ideal candidate, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said simply: “One who can beat Biden.” And Trump, he added, cannot.

"He loses in four of the five swing states. His endorsed candidates all lost, and plausibly they lose because of his endorsement,” Cassidy said. “I’ve been trained as a physician to see things as they are, not as I wish them to be. And that seems to be as they are.

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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Ricketts tapped to fill Nebraska’s open Senate seat

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen has appointed Pete Ricketts, the state’s former GOP governor, to fill retired Sen. Ben Sasse’s seat through 2024.

Ricketts, who served two terms and endorsed Pillen in the race to replace him last year, will run in a special election next fall to fill out the remaining two years of Sasse's Senate term. Ricketts said on Thursday that he is committed to running for the seat in both 2024 and 2026.

Before appointing Ricketts, Pillen said he weighed the former governor's ability to win statewide elections as well as his commitment to run for a full term, which would help develop seniority in the Senate. Ricketts will come in as a the most junior member of the chamber when he is sworn in on Jan. 23.

“There’s never been a Nebraskan who has had to run for statewide election in two consecutive terms … it’s an extraordinarily rigorous challenge,” Pillen said. “I don’t believe in placeholders.”

Sasse resigned this month to become president of the University of Florida, creating the vacancy. He had distinguished himself for his criticisms of former President Donald Trump, whom Sasse eventually voted to convict in his impeachment trial, but the departed senator also focused much of his energy on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Ricketts said he “can’t think of specific issues” he and Sasse disagree on, adding that he expects to be a reliably conservative vote and continue focusing on appointing right-leaning judges.

Both Pillen and Ricketts brushed off questions about backroom deals when it came to filling the seat. Ricketts was a top backer of Pillen’s campaign, raising some questions in the state about filling the vacancy. Sasse did not resign until after Pillen was sworn in, allowing Ricketts to fill the seat without having to self-appoint himself.

Pillen said backroom deals are “not my DNA.”

“I have no concerns about the process,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the senior senator from the state.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated last year he wanted Ricketts to fill the vacancy left by Sasse. He said on Thursday that Fischer and Ricketts "will instantly form an extremely effective one-two punch for Nebraska in the Senate" and praised Ricketts for his governing record and winning governor races "by gigantic margin."

Pillen said he interviewed nine candidates for the job and that none were Democrats. Nebraska is now a reliably red state, and Democrats have not won a Senate race there since 2006.

Yet Pillen suggested he didn’t want to take any chances by appointing a senator who could blow the seat in a primary or general election. He said Ricketts’ political experience “was a big separator” in the interview process; it also doesn’t hurt that Ricketts is personally wealthy, with the ability to self-fund should he face a primary challenge.

Ricketts said he would pass on any other opportunities that come along over the next 10 years as he shifts his focus to federal office.

“One of things we as Republicans need to win elections is to have a broad tent,” Ricketts said. “I’m committed to running in ‘24 and ‘26 to serve the people of Nebraska.”

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines of Montana said he looks "forward to working with Pete to stop Joe Biden’s harmful agenda and keep Nebraska red in 2024."

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Kennedy passes on Louisiana gubernatorial bid

Republican Sen. John Kennedy told supporters Wednesday he will forgo this year’s Louisiana governor race and stay in the U.S. Senate.

Fresh off winning a second term as senator, Kennedy said that he decided after deliberating that “at this juncture, I just think I can help my state and my country more in the Senate.”

“I have passed more bills as the lead author than any first-term senator in Louisiana's history, but, to be an effective senator, killing bad ideas is just as important as advancing good ones. I'm going to be very busy doing both,” Kennedy said in the message.

Kennedy’s decision marks the second Republican senator to pass on the race, which is a top Republican pick-up opportunity as Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, is term-limited. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) also considered the race but decided to stay in the Senate, citing his new role as top Republican on the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Kennedy is generally more conservative than Cassidy and known for his clever quips on Capitol Hill, whereas Cassidy voted to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial and emerged as a key Republican negotiator in the Senate. Kennedy is a bit of a thorn in the side of GOP leaders, never holding back if he’s feeling frustrated with his party’s strategy.

Kennedy would have been a formidable entrant. He just won re-election by more than 40 percentage points, avoiding a runoff.

He also previously looked at the 2019 governors race, which Edwards won. Former Sen. David Vitter, who previously held Kennedy’s seat, lost to Edwards in 2015 and retired from the Senate.

Now with an open seat, Attorney General Jeff Landry is the top declared GOP candidate in the race, though more candidates may be on the way. Republicans are bullish about their chances to flip the otherwise red-leaning state, with the anti-abortion Edwards leaving office.

Louisiana is one of three states that is holding an election for governor in 2023, along with Kentucky and Mississippi.

Zach Montellaro contributed to this report.

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See Romney run? Trump’s top GOP foil eyes Senate reelection

Many of Mitt Romney’s fellow senators assume his willingness to break from his party — and Donald Trump — means he's planning for only one term. They may be surprised.

The Utahn was the first senator in history to vote to remove a president of the same party from office, in Trump's first impeachment trial. Then he cut a series of bipartisan deals that upset the right. The blue-state governor turned GOP presidential nominee turned Senate elder statesman also doesn’t need the job, thanks to personal wealth that frees him to look beyond the Senate’s permanent reelection cycle.

But there's no more prominent GOP Trump foil these days than Romney. And with the former president weakened, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, no fan of Trump himself, is among the top Republicans exhorting Romney to seek another six-year term in 2024.

He’s considering it.

Whether he could win is “frankly, not a question in my mind," Romney said in an interview. "I've faced long odds: Getting the nomination in 2012 was a long shot, becoming a Republican governor in one of the most liberal states in America, Massachusetts. ... So I'm convinced that if I run, I win. But that's a decision I’ll make."

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) arrives at the U.S. Capitol on April 25, 2022.

Romney's ultimate decision on reelection will say far more about the state of the Republican Party than any other safe red seat. He's one of a handful of influential Senate centrists weighing how effective they might be if they come back for another term, a group that includes Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), as well as newly independent Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

Unlike the other three, however, Romney’s biggest threat is more likely to come in a primary than in the general election. With the state attorney general among the conservatives eyeing a challenge, Utah's voters are near evenly split over whether Romney should run again — yet a Romney reelection is important to McConnell to demonstrate the party's appeal goes beyond Trump, even as the former president's critics vanish from the congressional GOP.

And McConnell is willing to put money behind it.

McConnell already demonstrated he’s willing to defend an anti-Trump Republican against an intraparty challenge, spending millions of dollars this year through his aligned super PAC to reelect Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). McConnell said in an interview that he’s “absolutely” willing to do the same for Romney, and is pushing his colleague for another bid.

“He’s been a really important part of our conference. People respect his intelligence, his assessment of the era we find ourselves in. And I think his running for reelection would be very important,” McConnell said. “It’s important for the Republican Party and the country that he runs again.”

The first-term senator said that he’s beginning to do everything necessary to set up another run, such as “making sure I have the right people,“ fundraising and talking to voters. “But I haven't made a decision, finally. And probably won't do that anytime in the immediate future.”

Incoming National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) also backed another Romney run and is planning to meet with him soon to discuss his plans. Still, should he run, Romney can’t expect unified backing from the Senate Republican conference.

Romney stayed neutral during his colleague Sen. Mike Lee’s (R-Utah) reelection campaign, as his friend Evan McMullin ran against Lee as an independent. Lee is expected to remain similarly neutral in a primary if Romney runs again, according to a person familiar with his plans.

“That’s the nature of Utah politics,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) of the state’s strange dynamics. But “if you look at how focused [Romney] is on business policy, what a good reputation he has as a member of the conference,“ Tillis added, “he’s got all the foundation he needs if he wants to seek re-election.”

Since his election in 2018, Romney’s put an indelible stamp on the Senate. He voted to convict Trump in both impeachment trials, becoming the only Senate Republican to support abuse of power charges against Trump in the former president's first trial over Ukraine aid. He’s worked with Democrats frequently, yet just as easily takes a hard conservative line on issues like the debt ceiling. And Romney's self-deprecating sense of humor stands out in the stuffy chamber.

But in another respect, Romney's just like any politician: He wants to win. And though Utah is a red state, it’s a Trump-skeptical one. That makes Romney’s path to reelection easier than some other Trump critics who bowed out of electoral politics rather than face voters again.

Even so, he may face opposition from his own party if he runs, with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes the most prominent possibility.

Yet Murkowski points Romney down the path to running and winning as an anti-Trump Republican, for reasons beyond her backing from McConnell. Trump supported Murkowski's conservative challenger Kelly Tshibaka, but the incumbent stuck to the center amid her state’s new ranked-choice voting system and won by 7 points.

“I hope by the time Mitt really gets into full swing on the campaign, we’re not talking about the influence of Donald Trump,” said Murkowski, who is encouraging Romney to run again.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) talks with Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) outside the U.S. Capitol, Aug. 4, 2022.

Beyond the electoral math, there’s another factor for Romney to consider: Just what can the Senate do during the next two years of divided government? He's a key player in the Senate’s centrist negotiating groups that have helped craft new laws on infrastructure, gun safety and marriage equality — and he wants to continue that style of work as long as he’s a senator.

“I’m really pleasantly surprised that this was not a lot of sitting around and wringing hands. We got a lot of legislation of significant nature through,” Romney said in the interview.

His negotiating partner and friend Sinema raved over Romney as he makes up his mind: “I do like Mitt Romney so much. He’s great. He’s wonderful to work with.” The two have not only written laws together, but also spoofed "Ted Lasso" for Halloween.

Next year, the Senate will be narrowly divided with Democrats in charge, which may empower senators like Romney and Sinema to keep working together on issues like the minimum wage or immigration. But that doesn't mean they'll get the sort of traction they did with Democratic majorities in Congress that generally facilitated centrists' work, while usually just a minority of Senate Republicans voted for any bipartisan deals.

Now House Republicans are taking over, a potential roadblock to bipartisan legislation hatched by centrists that passes the Senate but divides Republicans. Romney said he needs to “see how that feels” in the coming months as he considers whether to test his brand of politics one more time.

“It's like, what should I do in the time I have left? You know, I'm 75,” Romney said. “ I've spent 25 years now in public service. and so what comes next? What do I want to accomplish? And, what can be accomplished?”

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Sinema switches to independent, shaking up the Senate

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is changing her party affiliation to independent, delivering a jolt to Democrats’ narrow majority and Washington along with it.

In a 45-minute interview, the first-term senator told POLITICO that she will not caucus with Republicans and suggested that she intends to vote the same way she has for four years in the Senate. “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” she said.

Provided that Sinema sticks to that vow, Democrats will still have a workable Senate majority in the next Congress, though it will not exactly be the neat and tidy 51 seats they assumed. They’re expected to also have the votes to control Senate committees. And Sinema’s move means Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — a pivotal swing vote in the 50-50 chamber the past two years — will hold onto some but not all of his outsized influence in the Democratic caucus.

Sinema would not address whether she will run for reelection in 2024, and informed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of her decision on Thursday.

“I don't anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema said, adding that some of the exact mechanics of how her switch affects the chamber is “a question for Chuck Schumer … I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema poses for a portrait in her office on Capitol Hill Dec. 8, 2022.

She said her closely held decision to leave the Democratic Party reflects that she’s “never really fit into a box of any political party” — a description she said also applies to her fiercely independent state and millions of unaffiliated voters across the country.

Sinema has a well-established iconoclastic reputation. She competes in Ironman triathlons, moonlighted at a Napa Valley winery and often hangs out on the GOP side of the aisle during floor votes.

The 46-year-old said her party switch is a logical next step in a political career built on working almost as closely with Republicans as she does with Democrats. That approach helped her play a pivotal role in bipartisan deals on infrastructure, gun safety and same-sex marriage during the current 50-50 Senate. It’s also infuriated some Democrats, particularly her resistance to higher tax rates and attempts to weaken the filibuster.

Her move will buck up her GOP allies and is certain to embolden her Democratic critics, at home and on the Hill. Sinema said that “criticism from outside entities doesn't really matter to me” and she’ll go for a “hard run” after her announcement becomes public, “because that’s mostly what I do Friday mornings.”

Even before her party switch, she faced rumblings of a primary challenge in 2024 from Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.). Becoming an independent will avoid a head-to-head primary against Gallego or another progressive, should she seek reelection. A theoretical general-election campaign could be chaotic if both Democrats and Republicans field candidates against her.

Sinema asserted she has a different goal in mind: fully separating herself from a party that’s never really been a fit, despite the Democratic Party’s support in her hard-fought 2018 race. That year she became the first Democrat in three decades to win a Senate race in Arizona, defeating former Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.).

Sinema wouldn’t entertain discussions of pursuing a second Senate term: “It's fair to say that I'm not talking about it right now.”

“I keep my eye focused on what I'm doing right now. And registering as an independent is what I believe is right for my state. It's right for me. I think it's right for the country,” she said, adding that “politics and elections will come later.”

Still, she did dismiss one possibility that her new independent status may raise for some: “I am not running for president.”

It’s been a decade since the last Senate party switch — when former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter left the GOP to become a Democrat — and even longer since former Sen. Joe Lieberman switched from Democrat to independent. Manchin routinely bats away rumors that he’s leaving the Democratic Party.

Sinema said she’s not directly lobbying anyone to join her in leaving either the Democratic Caucus or GOP Conference, saying that she’d like the Senate to foster “an environment where people feel comfortable and confident saying and doing what they believe.”

What that means practically is continuing to work among the Senate’s loose group of bipartisan dealmakers, some of whom are retiring this year. She’s already connected with Sen.-elect Katie Britt (R-Ala.) about working together.

And she maintains a relationship with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy that could come in handy with a GOP House and a Democratic Senate: “We served together for a long time, we're friends,” she said of McCarthy.

She insisted that she won’t deviate from her past approach to confirming Democratic presidential appointees, whom she scrutinizes but generally supports, and said she expects to keep her committee assignments through the Democrats (she currently holds two subcommittee chairmanships). Nor, she said, will anything change about her ideology, which is more socially liberal than most Republicans on matters like abortion and more fiscally conservative than most Democrats.

Sinema voted to convict former President Donald Trump in two impeachment trials, opposed Trump-backed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and supported Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, tapped by President Joe Biden. She also supported two Democratic party-line bills this Congress, one on coronavirus aid and the other devoted to climate, prescription drugs and taxes.

She said she maintains good relationships with Biden and the Senate majority leader as well as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who invited her to give a closely watched speech on bipartisanship in his home state several months ago.

Unlike independent Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine), Sinema won’t attend weekly Democratic Caucus meetings, but she rarely does that now. She isn’t sure whether her desk will remain on the Democratic side of the Senate floor.

And Sinema — who served three terms in the House and as a state legislator before her Senate election — said that Sen. Raphael Warnock’s (D-Ga.) Tuesday reelection victory “delighted” her. Warnock’s win will probably take some sting out of her decision for Democrats, but Sinema said she was not waiting on the results of the Georgia runoff election, which appeared to give her a party a real majority for the first time since 2014.

Her announcement is "less about the timing," she said. "It's really about me thinking how can I be most productive? How can I be true to my core values, the values of my state, and how do I continue being a really productive but independent voice for Arizona?"

Not that she wants any part in figuring out exactly how many seats they control now that she’s out of the Democratic Party.

“I would just suggest that these are not the questions that I'm interested in,” Sinema said. “I want people to see that it is possible to do good work with folks from all different political persuasions, and to do it without the pressures or the poles of a party structure.”

She approaches the Senate by looking for legislative opportunities to dive into headfirst — usually with a Republican partner. And those tactics bear fruit. She cited her work with retiring Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on the $550 billion Biden-blessed infrastructure law as a model. At the moment, she’s executing a similar play with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) on immigration reform, another issue that’s bedeviled legislators for decades.

That duo seems to be digging in deep as federal courts threaten pandemic-era border restrictions, border crossings increase and younger undocumented immigrants still lack legislative protections from deportation.

“We are working together on definitely the most difficult political issue of all of our careers,” Sinema said of her immigration talks with Tillis. “I don't know that I can give you an answer on where we are, or where we're gonna go. What I can tell you is that we have very deep trust with each other.”

While Sinema has worked frequently with a handful of Republicans, it’s hard to imagine a GOP majority entertaining Sinema’s policy priorities in the same way the Democrats have. Under McConnell, the Senate has often focused more on judicial nominees than sweeping legislation.

Sinema said she’s not sweating how any future changes in Senate control affect her work. “Partisan control is a question for the partisans,” she said, “and not really one for me.”

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‘You’ve gotta have a war every five or 10 years’

It’s not every day that a senator quotes a famous mob movie to describe the state of his political party after a week of infighting.

“You’ve gotta have a war every five or 10 years to get rid of the bad blood,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said, paraphrasing a line from “The Godfather" to paint a picture of Senate Republicans. “And then you start over.”

Tension built within the Senate GOP for nearly two years, from former President Donald Trump’s post-insurrection impeachment through a host of bipartisan Biden-era deals that many Republicans opposed. And after the party’s midterm election losses, those cracks turned into a chasm.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) mounted a challenge to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that embodied the conservative griping about the Kentuckian’s leadership style. As GOP senators spent roughly 10 hours in private meetings this week that at times grew highly contentious, the conference cleaved over a same-sex marriage bill that most of them opposed.

When McConnell defeated Scott, 37-10 (a tally that some Republican senators still won’t talk about) the intraparty whispers and rumors of opposition to the tight-gripped leader finally got quantified on paper. The GOP now hopes that its factions — or warring families, as Mario Puzo would put it — are at peace.

That McConnell faced his first contested leadership race in nearly 16 years atop the conference marked a turning point in the GOP. He’s held the post longer than anyone else in his party, and soon enough will break the Senate’s overall record. Despite that rarefied air, it’s clear that he was pushing for every single vote he could lock in.

Take J.D. Vance, a first-time candidate endorsed by Trump. The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund super PAC showered battleground races with $240 million in ad buys, including more than $30 million for Vance. McConnell spoke to Vance multiple times this week in the run-up to leadership elections, lobbying for the Ohio Republican’s vote, according to people familiar with the conversation.

Spokespeople for McConnell and Vance declined to comment.

It’s still not clear how Vance voted in the leadership race; some senators believe he was a definite no, while others think he may have supported McConnell. The secret ballot process allows senators to keep their votes private if they want, but the majority of McConnell dissenters own their opposition — now and in the future.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell meets with reporters after being re-elected to his longtime role as Senate Republican leader and fending off a challenge by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) an ally of former President Donald Trump, at the Capitol, Nov. 16, 2022.

“I’m not in favor of the current leadership. And I’m not going to be going forward,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who said he hoped GOP leaders had absorbed some of the criticism levied their way. “My worry here is that people don’t learn from failure.”

McConnell celebrated his overwhelming support this week with a thumbs-up and a triumphant press conference, striking a positive tone as his super PAC pours more into next month’s Georgia Senate runoff. But the same-sex marriage bill that moved forward this week with 12 GOP votes simultaneously drove a new wedge, similar to the split it caused earlier this year among the also-feuding House GOP conference.

The marriage protection bill made everything even more “rough — a lot of our members were adamantly against it,” said one Republican senator.

And a handful of ugly encounters this week will linger. After some senators asked for an accounting of the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s financial moves under Scott, the campaign arm chief fired back in a press release that under former chair Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), it had offered “unauthorized” bonuses to staffers at the end of 2020.

Young offered a chilly response on Thursday.

“I’ll answer any member’s questions as it relates to this. We operated the committee with great integrity, always above board and professional. So, that’s it,” Young said.

Senate Republicans' period of introspection centers on a few critical questions. The most important one: Why did they fail to pick up a single Senate seat in a midterm election under an unpopular Democratic president?

“We still need to do an impartial review of where we could have done better. A clear factor is that we lost independent voters. Why was that? What do we need to do to regain their trust?” Collins asked.

Though Scott was the top cheerleader for the party’s Senate nominees, McConnell and his allies have derided the NRSC's hands-off approach in contested primaries where other nominees might have proven stronger. That's already a relevant debate for the 2024 cycle: A contested GOP primary in West Virginia’s Senate race is taking shape, with Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) announcing a run and state attorney general Patrick Morrisey likely to run again.

A similar dynamic may be shaping up in Montana and Ohio, two of the GOP's other Senate pick-up opportunities in two years.

Already, incoming NRSC Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) says he’s going to do things a bit differently.

“We will look at every race in every state,” Daines said in an interview. “We want to see candidates that win a primary, that can win a general election.”

Without the majority, Republicans will be on defense for the next two years as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer still controls the floor. Schumer split Republicans on legislation like gun safety and infrastructure, earning McConnell’s vote along the way — although that dynamic will be muted now that Republicans have the House.

Then there's the question of whether Senate Republicans’ lack of a unified agenda cost the party. McConnell preferred to make this fall's Senate races a referendum on President Joe Biden, much to the chagrin of Republicans like Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and Rick Scott, who proposed his own list of conservative priorities that became Democratic attack-ad fodder.

Enter Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who said he and other senators are preparing a policy rollout for next year.

“We’ll be rolling out five or six major pieces of legislation in January, February, March, April, May,” the Louisiana Republican said. “What we’re going to be bringing forward are mature products that I think have the potential to make the average American’s life better … and by the way, I think that’s good politics too.”

Toward the end of Wednesday's nearly four-hour-long conference meeting, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) made a rousing speech about the election. The former college football coach explained to his colleagues that even after bad losses that divided the locker room, his players would emerge as a team.

“Sometimes we air our laundry too much,” Tuberville explained in an interview. “A lot of that had to do with: ‘We just got our tail kicked. We're 21-point favorites and we lost.’ So I think that brings on frustration. I’ll tell you, I’ve been there."

His message was mostly well-received. But one senator reported an inauspicious follow-up to Tuberville's speech: After leaving the supposedly unifying meeting, this Republican saw Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaking to reporters about GOP leaders’ tactical shortcomings.

The senator's message was unmistakable: At the moment, a unified GOP may be more of an aspirational goal than reality.

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Democrats for Murkowski: Alaska Republican counts her fans across the aisle

Jeanne Shaheen offered to campaign for her. Angus King directed money to her. And Mark Warner’s open to endorsing her whenever it helps most.

No, she’s not a Democrat. She’s Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

“I don’t want to get Lisa in trouble … Lisa is one of my very favorite Republicans, and if the Republican Party were comprised of center-right people like her, the country would be much better off,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “She’s a friend. And I think it would be a loss for Alaska if she were no longer serving in the Senate.”

One thing keeping Schatz from endorsing her officially? His state party “calls for the expulsion of anybody who does that sort of thing.”

As Murkowski tries to fend off a challenge from Donald Trump-backed candidate Kelly Tshibaka, the centrist is appealing to a broad home-state coalition that contains many left-leaning Democrats and independents. Murkowski’s Senate Democratic fan club reflects the same crossover clout that helped her quash a tea-party rival 12 years ago — and the fact that many conservatives will support Tshibaka anyway.

Alaska’s new election rules installed an open, top-four primary and a ranked-choice general election runoff, allowing Murkowski to ignore appeals to her party’s right flank and embrace her elevated status among Democrats for her bipartisan positions. And rather than rebuff support across the aisle, Murkowski is hoping for as much of it as possible.

In an interview, she said of Democrats: “I hope they’re going to have my back. Just as I hope the Republicans would have my back.” As she sees it, Democratic support only proves her theory of the case in Alaska’s new Wild West elections system.

It wouldn’t be the first time she prevailed against intra-party haters: In 2010 she won her second term as a write-in by famously running ads that taught voters how to spell “Murkowski.”

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was the first Democrat to endorse her, traveled to Alaska for an event with her this spring and vowed this week to do “whatever I can to help Lisa Murkowski” avoid a loss that would be a “very sad day for America.” And now other Democrats are responding to Murkowski’s wish for across-the-aisle support with enthusiasm.

“She's an overall badass. The Senate needs more leaders like Lisa, and I'm proud to support her,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who worked closely with Murkowski on last year’s new infrastructure law.

King, an independent Mainer who caucuses with Democrats, endorsed Republicans in the past: In 2014 he backed former Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). But he’s usually closely aligned with Democrats on the Senate floor, and this cycle his leadership PAC has mostly given to endangered Democrats like Maine Rep. Jared Golden, Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan.

So King's $5,000 leadership PAC check to Murkowski stands out.

“She has the highest integrity quotient that I’ve seen,” King said in an interview. "If you’re of a persuasion that nothing should get done, she’s not your person."

Murkowski’s vote to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial is what officially spurred the former president's endorsement of Tshibaka, even prompting a recent Trump rally in Alaska against the incumbent. But Murkowski was always a thorn in the side of Trumpism: She voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, did not back Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and has proven pivotal to pushing through President Joe Biden’s bipartisan legislative agenda.

Those qualities nearly sank Murkowski in 2010, when she lost a primary but won her write-in campaign.

“She’s never won the easy way,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who added that Murkowski’s centrist and left-leaning coalition “wouldn’t work in other parts of the country but I think it works for her.”

Her path to reelection is eased by her state’s new election rules, but the race is still shaping up to be a nail-biter. It’s not out of the question that Murkowski could lose. The latest poll showed her trailing Tshibaka in every round of voting until the last one, when she picked up almost all of Democrat Patricia Chesbro’s voters.

Murkowski would then win a final head-to-head ranked choice match-up 52-48, according to the Alaska Survey Research poll.

“As long as I’m winning,” Murkowski said of a potential close shave like the one depicted by the poll. She described her coalition as “broad ... my supporters have always been kind of the cross-the-board Alaskan: Republican, Democrat, independent, not affiliated.”

Chesbro is running way behind both Murkowski and Tshibaka, and national Democratic leaders are barely trying to contest the race. That gives Senate Democrats the ability to lavish the incumbent with praise — and many hope it might help Murkowski in the end since she's far more aligned with them than Tshibaka would be.

Of course, Murkowski isn’t with the Democrats on everything: She listened to their arguments on last year's $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill but rejected it and she voted against a Democrat-backed proposal expanding abortion access, despite supporting the codification of Roe v. Wade.

But the Alaskan has given Democrats a valuable GOP vote for gun safety legislation and infrastructure. She's even worked with Democrats on voting rights legislation and backed some progressive Biden nominees, like Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“I hope she’s going to come back,” Shaheen said. “I told her I’d be happy to campaign for her, if she thought that helped.”

Such Democratic praise still might alienate some Republicans in the state who potentially have to choose between Tshibaka and Murkowski as their top choice in November. In a statement for this story, Tshibaka said “not one of these liberals has Alaska’s best interests at heart, yet these are Lisa Murkowski’s cronies.”

“In Alaska, she says she is looking out for us, but in D.C. she turns her back on us, and she votes and parties with liberals,” Tshibaka added.

Officially the National Republican Senatorial Committee is backing Murkowski, the only GOP incumbent who backed Trump’s impeachment conviction and is facing voters this fall. The Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund also reserved $7 million in fall ads on her behalf.

But some Senate conservatives aren’t rushing to her side. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said he’s staying neutral, and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) stopped short of officially backing her campaign: “I wish her the best. I’m not against her. I basically just focus on Missouri.”

That’s not what you’re going to hear from most Democrats. To them, a Murkowski loss to Tshibaka is unthinkable. It would harm their prospects of working across the aisle and, frankly, deprive many Democrats of a close friend.

“Sen. Murkowski stands up for Alaska,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who works closely with Murkowski on bilateral relations between the two Pacific states. “And that’s what Alaska needs.”

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McConnell-tied super PAC makes early $141M play for the Senate

A Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC is booking $141 million in fall advertisements to help turn the Senate red, a staggering sum that sets the stage for a vicious battle over the chamber’s control.

The GOP-controlled Senate Leadership Fund is reserving eight-figure ad flights starting in September to protect Republican seats in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as well as to take Democratic-held seats in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, the group told POLITICO. SLF also laid down millions in Alaska to protect incumbent Lisa Murkowski from a Donald Trump-inspired primary challenge.

Those GOP plans follow the Chuck Schumer-aligned Senate Majority PAC’s moves to set aside $106 million in Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania, with most of those ads beginning in August.

Taken together, the two primary outside groups in Senate races have slotted nearly a quarter-billion dollars for the fall, with much more spending to follow those initial commitments. With Republicans currently favored to take the House, the 50-50 Senate is shaping up to be this fall’s marquee electoral contest. And it comes with huge stakes: The ability to control the Senate floor and confirm President Joe Biden’s nominees.

“This is such a strong year that we need to invest as broadly and deeply as we can,” Steven Law, the Senate Leadership Fund's president, said in an interview. “In the Senate, majority control is everything. It determines what happens on the floor and what doesn't happen. It will have an impact on future Supreme Court nominations. I mean, there's so much at stake.”

Notably, neither super PAC is putting money yet in New Hampshire, where Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan is running for reelection. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu took a pass on challenging Hassan, and both parties will be watching the September GOP primary closely to see who emerges.

Some Republicans are feeling less and less sure about how competitive they will be in the Granite State, but Law said he feels “very confident that we will end up playing in New Hampshire.” In the interim, Republicans and Democrats alike are concentrating elsewhere.

The McConnell-connected Senate Leadership Fund will drop a whopping $37 million in Georgia this fall, $27 million in North Carolina, $24 million in Pennsylvania, $15 million each in Nevada and Wisconsin, $14 million in Arizona and $7.4 million in Alaska. The Schumer-connected Senate Majority PAC reserved $26 million in Pennsylvania, $22 million in Arizona, $21 million in Nevada, $12 million in Wisconsin and nearly $25 million in Georgia.

Both sums amount to the biggest early investments by the two groups since they were created.

“Both parties recognize the core 2022 Senate map as competitive races in several ‘built to be close’ presidential battleground states. The GOP carries the burden of bad candidates and a badly damaged brand,” said JB Poersch, the president of Senate Majority PAC. “SMP’s intent is obvious: Hold the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.”

Republicans are feeling extraordinarily positive about netting at least one seat and winning Senate control in November, given Biden’s low approval ratings and polls starting to show significant opportunities to oust Democratic incumbents.

But beating incumbents is always hard, and Democratic senators are generally raising eye-popping sums like Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock’s $13.6 million in the first quarter of this year. With Democratic candidates often outraising the GOP, Law said he expected many Republican candidates to be outspent this fall, requiring a brawny intervention from his PAC to “try to level that playing field.”

Law, a former McConnell chief of staff, also cautioned his party against feeling too confident.

“The only thing that ever concerns me when you're in an environment that's this good, and there's so much talk about the red wave, is that complacency sets in,” Law said.

Not one of the Democratic-held Senate seats "is a layup" for the GOP, Law added. "And, you know, in several of these races … the Democratic incumbent is smart and well funded, and has a pathway to hold under their seat.”

At the moment, the Senate map looks tight. Democrats are defending four incumbents in closely contested states: Hassan, Warnock, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona. Five GOP incumbents are retiring, but among those states just North Carolina and Pennsylvania appear promising pickups for Democrats so far. And Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is the GOP’s lone vulnerable incumbent right now.

If things go Republicans’ way, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) could be beatable in November, and Law didn't rule out spending in Washington state, where Tiffany Smiley is challenging a heavily favored Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). On the other hand, a Democratic recovery at the polls could make that party more bullish about North Carolina or make Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) reelection race tougher.

Officials for both groups said their initial plans are subject to change and constantly evolving. Key political groups often change strategies down the line as some races grow more competitive and others fall off the battleground map. By reserving fall airtime in the spring, the groups can lock in lower prices than they would pay later in the year, especially in media markets like Nevada that have competitive races for governor and Congress.

The GOP's Senate Leadership Fund reserved in just six states to start the 2020 battle for Senate control while the Democrats' Senate Majority PAC reserved in five; both groups doubled their footprint as races evolved. As things stand now, the battleground list is smaller in 2022 than it was in 2020.

Ultimately, Democrats captured Senate control in January 2021 in twin runoffs in Georgia, demonstrating just how important every single Senate race is. In the 2020 cycle, the GOP super PAC spent $476 million and the Democratic one spent $372 million. Total spending during this year's midterm is unlikely to rival 2020's in the end, especially since the Georgia runoffs and the presidential race increased costs for Senate campaigns.

This time around, neither of the official party committees have laid down their fall reservations yet, moves that will offer more of a clue of how each party sees the battle for Senate control. Plus there are unresolved primaries to come.

And among those primaries, Republicans have more contested battles than Democrats — sparking some fear in the GOP that bad candidates could blow winnable races. For the time being, though, Law doesn’t necessarily see the need to get involved.

“The only place where there's a candidate who could possibly lose a perfectly winnable race would be Eric Greitens, in Missouri. And now it seems less likely that he'll be the nominee,” Law said. “We don't seek out opportunities to be involved in primaries.”

Another exception? Alaska, where Trump-endorsed Kelly Tshibaka is challenging Murkowski under the state's new open primary and ranked-choice voting system. McConnell has made clear that Senate Republicans stand fully behind Murkowski, who sparked Trump's ire by voting to convict him in an impeachment trial.

Steven Shepard contributed to this report.

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