Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, issued a warning to his party about its chances of retaking control of the Senate during the 2024 elections.
The balance of power in the Senate will again be up for grabs next year, and many Republicans have expressed optimism about their odds of winning a majority of seats in Congress’ upper chamber, as Democrats are forced to defend seats in states with conservative leans such as Montana, West Virginia and Ohio—all of which former President Donald Trump easily won in 2020.
Depending on the results of the presidential election, Republicans will need to flip either one or two of these seats to seize control of the Senate, as Democrats currently hold 51. If neither party reaches 51 seats in 2024, the vice president will serve as the tie-breaker.
McConnell, despite this more favorable map, told CNN on Monday he is “not” optimistic about Republicans’ chances of beating Democrats in these key races, citing concerns that GOP primary voters may not select strong candidates in the primary elections.
“We do have the possibility of screwing this up and that gets back to candidate recruitment,” McConnell. “I think that we lost Georgia, Arizona and New Hampshire because we didn’t have competitive candidates.”
During the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans suffered defeats in most key Senate races despite hopes that a “red wave” fueled by President Joe Biden’s struggling approval rating would spur them to victory. Political analysts have said weak Republican candidates in those states, as well as in Pennsylvania and Nevada, cost the GOP Senate control.
McConnell told CNN that Senate Republican leaders are “working very hard to not let” a repeat of 2022 occur in the Senate by focusing on the recruitment of stronger candidates in these key states. GOP leaders’ ties to organizations such as the Senate Leadership Fund and National Republican Senatorial Committee will be more involved in competitive primaries and will be more focused on backing electable candidates than an “ideological litmus test,” he said.
Newsweek has reached out to McConnell’s office for further comment via email.
The Four Senate Seats on Mitch McConnell’s Radar
Only a handful of seats will determine whether Democrats or Republicans win control of the Senate in 2024. McConnell specifically told CNN he is eyeing in particular four races that could emerge as the most competitive.
In West Virginia, Senator Joe Manchin is viewed as the most vulnerable Democrat, as the state voted for Trump by nearly 40 points in 2020. Governor Jim Justice announced he is running in the race last week and is seen as a top-tier recruit for the GOP.
Democratic Senators Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio are also defending seats in states Trump won in 2020, but it remains unknown who will run on the Republican side.
McConnell also mentioned Pennsylvania, where Democratic Senator Bob Casey is up for reelection, as a top GOP target—but Casey is viewed as a slight favorite, according to the Cook Political Report. Pennsylvania is roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, but Democrats prevailed there in 2022, winning the gubernatorial race, Senate race and nearly every competitive House race.
Beyond those four seats, McConnell said Republicans may also invest in Arizona, Wisconsin and Nevada, all of which are also expected to be competitive at the presidential level, depending on primary results. Texas’ Senate race, where Democrats are banking on Representative Collin Allred to defeat Republican Senator Ted Cruz, is seen as their best chance of flipping a seat.