Darrell Ehrlick

(Daily Montanan) Even though he was speaking in South Dakota, Sen. Steve Daines had a message for Montana – and Ohio and West Virginia.

“If you’re a Democrat and you’re running in those states, we’re coming for you,” Daines told an enthusiastic crowd who had gathered to hear former U.S. President and current Republican front-runner Donald J. Trump.

While South Dakota’s entire Republican Congressional delegation was notably absent from the event, Daines said he drove to the rally from across the border. Daines is heading the U.S. Senate Republican efforts in the 2024 election, which includes trying to win back the majority for the GOP.

Daines name checked the three states – Montana, Ohio and West Virginia – as the three he’ll target in order to flip the Senate. Among the challenges in those three states include his colleague, Sen. Jon Tester, the lone statewide Democrat.

In a speech on Friday evening that lasted seven-and-a-half minutes, Daines ran through a laundry list of criticisms aimed at U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, including inflation, the cost of groceries and energy policies he said were aimed at eliminating any domestic production of oil and natural gas in favor of “Chinese-made batteries.”

Daines has served in Congress – both the House and Senate – for 11 years and called the four years of Trump’s presidency the “greatest four years in D.C.” during his tenure, hitching the Senate’s star to that of Trump.

He said he uses his daily walk from his Washington, D.C. apartment to the office as a time to reflect, and said that he’s looking forward to January 2025.

“Thank God Joe Biden will no longer be President of the United States,” Daines said.

Daines said that he disapproved of how Biden handled a Chinese spy balloon that floated across America, including Montana and South Dakota, and advocated for shooting it down over either of the states.

“I told the President the worst that could happen is you might hit a cow, mule deer or antelope,” he said.

Daines said that his job was “to take the gavel away from Chuck Schumer,” a reference to the majority leader of the Senate, a Democrat from New York, saying that Trump will need to work with the Senate to get his cabinet nominees confirmed when he’s re-elected.

“Imagine if he has to call Chuck Schumer. That will be a disaster. And that’s why we need to win the majority again,” Daines said. “I’m looking forward to making America great again.”

The Tester re-election campaign declined to comment for this story.

All politics is local

Lee Banville, a University of Montana journalism professor who teaches political science and media coverage, said that Daines’ message is both safe and strategic.

Focusing on the three states – Ohio, West Virginia and Montana – are the key to flipping control of the Senate, Daines’ job in the 2024 election. And, with margins so narrow, and those states proving that they’re willing to elect Republicans to federal office, energizing and messaging Republicans makes sense.

“It’s really a pretty straight math equation,” Banville said. “If you can nationalize a local race, you can tilt it toward the GOP.”

While the appeal of Trump to moderate or swing voters is unclear, Trump’s brand among conservatives continues to be strong. The strategy, Banville said, is to excite the voters in the three targeted states for Trump and hitch those Republican Senate hopefuls to the energy created by the former President.

“Presidential races always affect turnout, so if you get more people who are excited, it will help from the President to the local dog catcher,” Banville said.

Though Trump and his legal battles in four different jurisdictions may turn off some voters, he believes Daines and GOP pollsters have a different approach: Win three contested states by energizing and appealing to conservative voters, essentially making all the races local by association.

“They’re making an argument that endorsing Trump is not a dangerous proposition in those states,” Banville said.