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Potential 2024 Trump challengers did well on election night

The Republican presidential primary starts now.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds his daughter Mamie during an election night watch party at the Convention Center in Tampa, Florida, on November 8.
Giorgio Viera/AFP via Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

Election night may have unofficially kicked off the 2024 campaign season, with potential GOP challengers to former President Donald Trump having a good showing.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu — all of whom have previously hinted at their 2024 ambitions or been named as top contenders — handily won reelection on Tuesday.

Trump has not yet announced his 2024 campaign at the urging of Republican leaders who told him to wait until after the midterms, but he’s expected to do so next week, saying at a recent rally in Ohio that he has a “very big announcement” coming November 15. He’s also already thrown barbs at DeSantis, recently dubbing him “Ron De-Sanctimonious” and threatening to say “things about him that won’t be very flattering” if he runs, just after the two held dueling rallies in Florida.

There are questions within the GOP as to whether Trump should run and whether the party should rally around him if he does. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, has expressed enthusiasm about Scott launching a 2024 presidential bid, suggesting he’d prefer a non-Trump nominee. Voters also appear divided about a Trump candidacy: About 60 percent of Republicans said they thought Trump should run again in 2024, with 36 percent saying he should not, according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey last month.

If Trump’s sway over voters were to be measured by his midterms record, things appear to be a mixed bag. Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance and Rep. Ted Budd won their competitive Senate races in Ohio and North Carolina, respectively. But other Senate races where Trump had made endorsements, including in Georgia, were still contested, and Trump protege Kari Lake appeared to be underperforming in the Arizona governor’s race. Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, a key figure in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state, lost his bid for governor, and Trump’s Senate pick in the state, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz, also lost.

Doug Mastriano, Republican gubernatorial candidate for Pennsylvania, shares the stage with former President Donald Trump as he speaks to supporters during a campaign rally in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, on November 5. Mastriano lost his bid for governor to Democrat Josh Shapiro.
Dustin Franz/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Mixed success with endorsements seems unlikely to derail Trump’s “big announcement.” It may, however, be cause for some Republicans to see an opening to challenge him. Still, running against Trump would force Republicans to confront him — and potentially risk his wrath, and that of his supporters, when they’re facing reelection. For now, Trump’s potential rivals have mostly tried to stay fairly quiet about their ambitions and remain in his good graces.

The candidates lining up to challenge Trump

DeSantis is widely considered the frontrunner among the Republicans vying to challenge Trump in 2024, though when asked during a recent debate whether he would run, he didn’t answer. He rose to prominence after he let Florida businesses stay open even at the height of the pandemic and has a talent for attracting national news attention, notably for his “Don’t Say Gay” bill and for flying migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. His victory was called early in the night, with Democrats having a poor showing across the increasingly red state of Florida.

Abbott — who originated the program to send migrants to blue cities and has something of a rivalry with DeSantis — fended off a well-funded challenge from Democrat Beto O’Rourke. Though O’Rourke came close to unseating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, he was lagging behind Abbott by a larger margin Tuesday night, demonstrating continued Republican dominance in the state. Abbott’s aides have denied speculation that he will run for president in 2024, but the governor has spent the last few months campaigning against the agenda of national Democrats as much as he has his Democratic gubernatorial opponent.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott arrives to speak at an election night campaign party with his wife Cecilia Abbott and daughter Audrey in McAllen, Texas, on November 8.
David J. Philip/AP

After turning down the opportunity to run for Senate this year, Sununu on Tuesday became only the second governor in New Hampshire history to win a fourth term. He’s named by the Washington Post as one of the top potential 2024 contenders, but hasn’t said much to suggest he would run other than telling reporters on Tuesday that Trump entering the race in 2024 “does not clear the field” and that “Everyone that wants to run is still going to run.”

Scott — who has previously dodged questions about whether he wanted Trump to run, but also hinted that he could be his running mate — was more explicit in his victory speech Tuesday night.

“My grandfather voted for the first man of color to be reelected as president of the United States,” he told the crowd. “I wish he had lived long enough … to see perhaps another man of color elected president of the United States. But this time, let it be a Republican and not just a Democrat.”

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