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Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally on September 25, 2021 in Perry, Georgia. Credit - Sean Rayford/Getty Images
During their local mayoral race in early November, town residents in Hialeah, Florida, population 230,000, heard a familiar voice in a campaign ad for the city’s election. “Steve Bovo,” boomed former President Donald Trump’s voice, in an ad spliced with video of Trump name checking the Republican candidate during a rally in 2020. Boosting Bovo’s campaign to run the town next door to the Trump National Doral Miami resort, the former President’s endorsement told voters that “as Mayor, Bovo will fight for the values that are now under attack by the Radical Left.” With Trump’s seal of approval, Bovo won the municipal election with 59% of the vote.
Bovo’s not the only hyper-local candidate to win an endorsement from the 45th President. Over the last year, Trump has endorsed 57 officials in state, local and congressional races across the country, according to a tally kept by Ballotpedia. He endorsed the winning candidate for Staten Island borough president. He’s already backed candidates running in 2022 for land commissioner in Texas, agricultural commissioner in Florida, secretary of state in Arizona, Georgia and Michigan, a host of state attorneys general and lieutenant governor hopefuls, as well as 17 candidates for House races, 14 Senate races and eight state governor’s races.
An endorsement from a former President is coveted political capital, and it is unusual for a former Commander-in-Chief to extend his influence to such low-level political races. So what is Trump up to? It’s partly personal, political observers say. Trump has always been open about supporting those who praise him and attacking those who criticize him. Since leaving office, he has intervened in low-level races where he has a personal history. “He’s got a long memory and is one of the most vengeful people we’ve ever come across,” says Larry Sabato, a prominent political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
But Trump appears to have tactical reasons for intervening at the local level, too. His failed attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election suggest to Sabato and others that his local endorsements have a political motivation, especially when they are for positions that oversee vote counting and certification of election results in swing states.
Endorsing candidates for secretary of state, for example, may be a sign that Trump learned from his inability to overturn the election in 2020 and is positioning himself to be able to change the outcome if he or an ally loses the presidential race in 2024. (Trump has not yet announced whether he plans to run.) “He wasn’t able to control the process in the way that he had expected after the 2020 election. He wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again in 2024,” Sabato says. “He’s trying to prepare the way either for himself or for his chosen successor on the Republican side.” In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Trump unsuccessfully pressured members of Congress and state-level secretaries of state to alter vote totals or not certify results for Joe Biden. “We all know now Election Day is just the beginning of the process,” Sabato continues. “The old tradition of a peaceful transition of power is out the window, thanks to Donald Trump and his allies.”
The office for former President Trump did not respond to a request for comment.
Trump’s endorsements have extended even lower into city governments than the secretaries of state or mayors’ offices. Vito Fossella had served multiple terms as a state representative in Albany until a DUI arrest in 2008 revealed he had a second family living in Virginia, and the revelation temporarily tanked his political career. But Trump boosted Fosella’s comeback in the race for Staten Island Borough President this year with an endorsement that proclaimed “New York City is now a filthy and dangerous place” and Fossella is “the only true Conservative Republican in the race who will stand up to the Radical Liberal Mob.” Fossella won the race. He said he got a call from Trump after his come-from-behind win.
Trump has focused some of his recent endorsements on 2022 elections Texas—a state he won in 2020 by more than five points. He endorsed Dawn Buckingham, who is running for Texas land commissioner. She was an early supporter of Trump’s in 2015 and currently serves in the Texas state senate. The state’s current land commissioner is George P. Bush, the son of Trump’s 2016 Presidential primary rival Jeb Bush. The younger Bush broke with his family’s criticism of Trump earlier this year to praise Trump in what was widely seen as a bid to get Trump’s endorsement for Texas attorney general. Also joining the attorney general race is another Trump supporter, Congressman Louie Gohmert, who met with planners of the Jan. 6 rally and is a member of the House Anglo Saxon Political Traditions Caucus. Trump decided to endorse the incumbent Ken Paxton for reelection instead, and has scheduled a fundraiser for Paxton at Mar-a-Lago in December.
Some of Trump’s early endorsements are for candidates in states that contributed to his election loss in 2020. In Michigan, he’s endorsed candidates for attorney general and secretary of state, as well as five state representatives. In Georgia, he’s backed candidates for secretary of state and lieutenant governor. He’s endorsed a candidate for secretary of state in Arizona, where allies dragged out an election audit that ultimately confirmed Biden’s win. Those states will likely be closely contested in 2024 as well, and Trump seems to be trying to position allies in key roles.
Not all of Trump’s picks so far have been successful. Trump’s choice in the Republican primary for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, Sean Parnell, dropped out of the race on Nov. 22 after losing custody of his three children amid abuse allegations in contested divorce proceedings. Trump’s endorsement can help, but “you’ve still got to nominate good candidates,” says Whit Ayers, a Republican pollster and political consultant.
Trump’s endorsements are most effective in Republican primaries in states and districts that went for Trump in 2020, says Ayers. In 2018, then-President Trump’s endorsement of Ron DeSantis in the Republican primary for Florida governor swung the race by more than 20 points in DeSantis’ favor, Ayers says. But a Trump endorsement “doesn’t appear to be anywhere near that potent today in the wake of the post-election allegations and Jan. 6,” he says. In toss-up states, a Trump endorsement could even be a “minus,” according to Ayers, and help motivate Democratic voters. Ayers argues that Trump’s false allegations of election fraud in Georgia depressed Republican turnout during the Senate runoff late last year, allowing Democrats to win those two Senate seats. When Trump endorsed Maryland state delegate Daniel Cox as a primary challenger to Maryland’s incumbent Republican Governor Larry Hogan, Hogan wrote on Twitter, “Personally, I’d prefer endorsements from people who didn’t lose Maryland by 33 points.”
As Trump tries to sway the outcome in local races from New York to Arizona, the next year will test just how influential the former President remains.