A Republican Party already bullish about its Senate chances in 2024 is smelling blood in the water following Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (Ariz.) decision to become an Independent last week, and one name is rising to the top of its candidate wish-list: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R).
Ducey, the outgoing two-term governor, is widely viewed among Republicans as the party’s best bet to flip a seat that has already garnered a sizable amount of attention, particularly on the left.
“He’s not our only chance, but he’s probably our best chance,” one Arizona-based GOP operative said. “I view it as: He is a competent governor who understands how to campaign. He can raise money very effectively, and I think that makes him the best general election candidate we can get.”
But whether he will want to take the plunge remains an open question. Ducey last week told reporters in his home state that he is “not running for the United States Senate,” adding that “it’s not something I’m considering.”
He also passed on a chance to take on Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly (D) in November after an intense lobbying effort by Republicans. A longtime executive, Ducey has maintained that he is not one for legislating.
However, that isn’t stopping Republicans from making their pitch — one they will likely make until April of 2024, the expected filing deadline in the Grand Canyon State.
“He’s been a great governor, and I think he’s a fantastic guy,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a top ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “I like him a lot.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who is up for reelection in 2024, added that Ducey would be an “excellent candidate.”
“I hope that he’ll get in,” Romney told The Hill.
Sinema has also long been viewed as a more vulnerable senator than Kelly — even before she left the Democratic Party and threw Arizona’s 2024 Senate race into the type of turmoil that some operatives think would benefit a Republican candidate even further.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said part of Ducey’s calculus for sidestepping the 2022 bid was likely related to the desire to also sidestep all things related to former President Trump. The ex-president has made clear his disdain for the outgoing governor, who was an ally until the moment he certified Arizona’s 2020 presidential election results for President Biden.
A 2024 bid could offer Ducey a better shot. Despite Trump launching his third White House bid, his standing in the GOP is falling after the party’s disastrous midterm performance.
“He was talked to [about] this last time … extensively,” Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told The Hill with a laugh. “My assumption is that if he has an interest, there would probably be extensive conversations.”
A Ducey run would mark a big moment for the GOP as it looks to resolve candidate recruitment and “candidate quality” issues McConnell bemoaned both before and after the midterm elections. McConnell himself declined to say on Tuesday whether he planned to talk to Ducey about the contest.
The Arizona GOP operative noted that it’s possible Ducey, the outgoing chairman of the Republican Governors Association, has “bigger aspirations” than the upper chamber. Multiple sources noted that Ducey, the former CEO of Cold Stone Creamery, has been floated as a future head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Suzanne Clark continues to hold that position.
“At the end of the day, he probably could have won in ’22. But he didn’t want to do it, and I don’t think that has changed,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based GOP strategist. “Maybe he’ll get tired of being out of government.”
Thus far, there has been far more movement on the Democratic side of the race.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a frequent critic of Sinema, has said in recent days that he is considering a bid and is likely to decide by next month.
Shortly after the incumbent senator’s announcement, Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) released polling data showing a head-to-head match-up of him versus the Arizona senator. Sources also speculated that someone from the business community might take a gander at a run.
Adding to the intrigue, Sinema on Thursday filed for a 2024 run under her new party designation. The race is considered crucial for Democrats, as they are facing a daunting map. Of the 33 seats up in 2024, they hold 23.
If Ducey holds true and decides against a bid, other Republicans are already being floated as potential candidates.
Arizona Rep.-elect Juan Ciscomani (R), a former Ducey adviser who won a purple district in November that was vacated by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D), is considered a potential contender, though some cast doubt over whether he would move toward a Senate run after only being in the House for a few months. Arizona Reps. David Schweikert and Andy Biggs, and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb are also considered as possibilities to launch bids.
However, Republicans argue the time is right for Ducey given the ebbing Trump factor and the possibility of a three-way race with two candidates who lean left.
“His scoop of ice cream is sitting on the slab. It’s either going to melt or he’s going to fold it into a cup and put a smile on a customer’s face,” one GOP operative said of Ducey.