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New wave of Republican candidates to challenge Trump and DeSantis

The initial phase of the Republican presidential primaries has largely focused on the escalating clash of former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

But a new wave of Republican White House hopefuls will enter the race next week after a month-long lull. They include former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who will formally launch his campaign on Wednesday.

Former Vice President Mike Pence has said he will finalize his plans in “weeks, not months.” He has kept a busy schedule of first state visits and policy speeches as aides have discussed the details of an announcement that includes dates as early as May, but more likely June. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, who has formed a presidential exploratory committee, is expected to join the race in a similar time frame.

Meanwhile, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been meeting with former advisers and returned to New Hampshire this week, where he told the nation’s first primary state that, “Tonight is the start of the case against Donald Trump. He has said that he will make a decision “in the next two weeks.”

The contenders will enter the race at a critical time as DeSantis, who has not officially announced a campaign, has struggled to meet the sky-high expectations among some early backers. He has been losing the support of elected Republicans in his own state to Trump and is raising concerns among some in the party that his positions on abortion and LGBTQ rights, among other issues, could leave him ineligible in a general election. In recent weeks, Trump has cemented his status as the early front-runner in the race, even after he was impeached in New York, but he remains the subject of escalating investigations in Atlanta and Washington and lingering concerns about his eligibility after lose to President Joe Biden in 2020.

Potential rivals are hoping the dynamic leaves an opportunity for one of the new entrants to emerge as an alternative to the current poll leaders. Some strategists hope that Trump and DeSantis will attack each other so viciously that they will scare away voters and leave them searching for an alternative.

“It’s not uncommon for a third candidate to come up who is not involved in the hoopla,” said Bryan Lanza, a former Trump adviser who has been informally advising Larry Elder, the conservative radio host who launched his unlikely campaign on Thursday.

Lanza said he expects a strong race to be the “second tier leader” of candidates currently polling in the bottom 10%.

Beyond Trump and Elder, the current field of official GOP presidential candidates includes former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, who announced their offers in February.

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden is expected to announce his re-election effort as early as next week. He faces minimal primary competition.

Among Republicans, the first debates that are scheduled to begin this summer could be crucial in determining who builds momentum, particularly given DeSantis’ expectations.

That means candidates may need to solidify their planning soon, even if they prefer to wait longer. The Republican National Committee has scheduled the first debate for August and is expected to set strict benchmarks that candidates must meet to participate, including amassing tens of thousands of individual donors.

“That takes a little bit of time to do, so if you’re going to take this seriously, and I think you have to be on stage to take it seriously, then you probably have to make the decision in May,” Christie said. she said this week during an interview with the media outlet Semafor.

Meanwhile, candidates-in-waiting have seen little reason to get involved sooner, particularly given Trump’s propensity to attack. Instead, they’ve been biding their time, visiting early voting states, making speeches and courting donors as they survey the field. Pence, for example, was in California this week meeting with potential backers and will host another donor retreat for his nonprofit group at the end of May.

“If I were in his shoes, I would wait as long as possible,” said former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was considered an early favorite for the Republican nomination when he ran against Trump in 2016. He recalls realizing, in those early weeks, how dramatically Trump had changed the race, dominating it all.

“There was no way around it then,” he said. “And right now, anyone who thinks they’re somehow going to come in and change that is missing out on reality.”

The rivalry between Trump and DeSantis has grown uglier by the day, with the political groups that support both men already spending millions on attack ads.

While DeSantis has largely ignored Trump’s jabs questioning his commitment to Social Security, his relationship with girls as a teacher decades ago, and even his sexuality, a pro-DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, began responding in your first round of paid ads. Last weekend.

“Trump should be fighting the Democrats, not lying about Governor DeSantis,” the narrator says in an ad that ran on Fox News. “What happened to Donald Trump?”

The ad ran alongside an online attack ad describing Trump as “a wuss” and a “gun grabber” geo-targeting attendees of an RNC donor retreat in Indiana.

Meanwhile, Trump’s super PAC, MAGA Inc., has been airing its own trio of ads on cable news channels highlighting DeSantis’ votes to cut Social Security and Medicare and raise the retirement age.

“The more you learn about DeSantis, the more you see that he doesn’t share our values. He’s just not ready to be president,” the narrator said in one. Another seized on a report that DeSantis once ate pudding with his fingers, urging DeSantis to “keep his pudding fingers out of our money.”

Trump and his campaign have long viewed DeSantis as their only serious challenger and believed that the fuller the field, the better for Trump, as the candidates split the anti-Trump vote. But a repeat of the massive 2016 field has not materialized, with potential candidates like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan passing over the campaigns.

There are still many unknown dynamics, including whether governors like South Dakota’s Kristi Noem or New Hampshire’s Chris Sununu will launch campaigns. Both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Virginia Gov. Glen Youngkin have said they are focused on other races, but neither has explicitly ruled out a race, leaving open the possibility that they could submit late-entry bids.

Mike DuHaime, a longtime Republican strategist and adviser to Christie, believes that Trump is the frontrunner but is nonetheless beatable. He warned that the races are complicated, with unexpected results.

“I do believe that DeSantis is firmly the alternative to Trump right now, but I don’t know if he will continue to be that way. There is still too much time to go,” he said, arguing that a moment of debate or a piece of news could change his trajectory.

“Someone has to pick up the pace,” he said. “He’s so open even with Trump as the prohibitive favorite.”


Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in New York and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, SC, contributed to this report.



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