Wisconsin Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher said Friday he would not challenge Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., in 2024, dealing a blow to state and national Republicans who flagged the congressman from Green Bay was their best recruit to help them take support for the Senate majority.
In recent weeks, as pressure quietly mounted from party insiders, Gallagher had repeatedly said he wanted to stay focused on China as chairman of the House Select Committee – and in announcing his decision to not show up, he said he would.
“As a representative from Northeast Wisconsin and chairman of the Chinese Community Party’s select committee, I have a rare bipartisan opportunity at the 118th Congress to help restore American strength, prevent war in the Pacific, and to defend our fundamental freedoms against communal aggression,” Gallagher said in a statement. “The fulfillment of this mission and the service of Wisconsin’s 8th District deserve my full attention. Accordingly, I will not be running for the Senate. in 2024 and I will pursue my re-election to the House.
Many National Republicans viewed Gallagher, a 39-year-old former U.S. Marine, as an up-and-coming prospect who was the best asset to take on Baldwin, a two-term holder and prolific fundraiser. Recruiting a strong candidate to run against Baldwin would help Republicans in their quest to win back the majority in the Senate.
In recent weeks, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., the chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee — the group that leads GOP campaign efforts in the Senate — has made no secret of his desire to see Gallagher run, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he would be “a very strong candidate”.
Additionally, a poll commissioned by the NRSC showed Gallagher in a close race with Baldwin in a hypothetical match.
In a statement Friday, committee spokesman Tate Mitchell said Gallagher’s decision not to run was “obviously disappointing.”
“But it would have been a political mistake not to try to recruit him,” Mitchell said, adding, “We’ll have a strong candidate in Wisconsin.”
No Republican candidate has yet announced a challenge to Baldwin.
But with Gallagher, a noted critic of former President Donald Trump, no longer in the running, attention will now turn to Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., and businessmen Eric Hovde and Scott Mayer. All three said they were considering campaigns. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke also hasn’t ruled out an offer.
GOP strategists interviewed by NBC News said Republicans need to find and unite around a candidate quickly if they are to have any chance of defeating Baldwin.
“Republicans in Wisconsin need to find a candidate who can compete politically and financially and do it quickly,” said Ben Voelkel, a Milwaukee-based Republican strategist who currently does not work for any of the potential candidates.
Tiffany, who represents a rural district in northern Wisconsin, said in an interview this week that he had been in regular contact with Gallagher and other potential candidates to assess the likelihood of their offers, and signaled that he would announce its own decision on the summer.
“I will make my decision regardless of what other people are doing, although I am interested in what other people are doing,” Tiffany said.
Republicans will see a favorable Senate map in 2024: Democrats must defend 23 seats next year (including three held by independents who caucus with Democrats), while Republicans only have to defend 10.
While Wisconsin is one of the strongest Republican pickup opportunities, defeating Baldwin will likely remain a battle, even in a presidential year with a vulnerable incumbent. A solid fundraiser, Baldwin consistently polls higher than Biden, who narrowly won Wisconsin in 2020, in the state. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report calls the race “Lean Democratic.”
Democrats, however, say they won’t take anything for granted.
“It’s Wisconsin, where both sides start with 48%,” Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, said in an interview. “Republicans are going to target him for their Senate majority, especially given the overwhelming GOP focus on winning Wisconsin to grab the presidency.”
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com