Indiana Gov. Mike Pence endorsed Ted Cruz on Friday, which may not be enough to help Cruz win Indiana, where he currently trails Donald Trump in polls, let alone the Republican nomination. Nevertheless, the endorsement is part of a pattern: With the exception of a single congressman from Western New York, no Republican who faces a competitive gubernatorial, Senate or House election this November has endorsed Trump.
Pence, a plausible presidential contender in 2020, is one of those Republicans with a lot on the line. He considered a presidential bid this year but decided to run for a second term as governor instead. However, his re-election this November is not assured. (Indiana is one of a dozen states to hold gubernatorial races in presidential years.) He’s in a tight race with Democrat John Gregg, the former speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, whom he beat by only 3 percentage points in 2012. If this turns out to be a catastrophic November for Republicans, Pence’s governorship and his presidential hopes could be toppled.
The only other Republican governor in a competitive re-election race this year, according to Cook Political Report’s ratings, is Pat McCrory of North Carolina, who hasn’t made a presidential endorsement. However, there are 11 Republican senators and 34 Republican members of the House who face competitive races, according to Cook. The only one to have endorsed Trump is Tom Reed, the incumbent from New York’s 23rd Congressional District, a Republican-leaning swing district that covers much of the rural, western part of the state.
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Cruz hasn’t received much support from Republicans in competitive races either. Prior to Pence’s endorsement, the only Republicans in competitive races to back him had been Mia Love, the representative from Utah’s 4th Congressional District, and Alex Mooney, from West Virginia’s 2nd District. John Kasich, meanwhile, has been endorsed by Sen. Rob Portman, his fellow Ohioan, along with two House members in competitive races.
Marco Rubio had been somewhat more successful at procuring endorsements while still in the race, but most Republicans in competitive races have sat on the sidelines. Overall, of the 109 endorsement points available from Republicans facing competitive races — endorsement points are our system that assigns 10 points to an endorsement by a governor, five for a senator and one for a member of the House — 12 have gone to Cruz, seven to Kasich and just one to Trump. Another 22 belong to Rubio or other Republicans who have since exited the race. But the majority of Republicans in competitive races haven’t endorsed a presidential contender at any point of the election cycle.
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Although the pace of Republican endorsements has been extraordinarily sluggish overall, Republicans who are not up for re-election this year — or who are not in competitive races — have been at least a little more active. Trump has 6 percent of the endorsement points from Republicans who don’t face competitive races, as compared to just 1 percent (Reed’s endorsement) from those who do. Cruz has 14 percent of the endorsement points from Republicans who don’t face competitive races. He has 11 percent from those who do (and that was just 2 percent before Pence’s endorsement).
It’s hard to know whether Pence thinks he can still stop Trump, whether he wants to distance himself from Trump for November — Pence did say he’d back Trump against Hillary Clinton — or if he thinks supporting Cruz could help his positioning in 2020. (The answer may be all of the above — or none of the above — of course.) But when you hear stories about Republicans backing Trump, cross-reference those names against lists of competitive races such as the ones produced by Cook. There are lots of plausible reasons for Republican elected officials to back Trump, ranging from liking his politics to wanting to get in on the ground floor in the event of a Trump administration. The Republicans with the most to lose have mostly been staying away, however.
CORRECTION (April 29, 4 p.m.): An earlier version of a table in this article misidentified two congressmen, Scott Tipton and Tom MacArthur. Tipton represents Colorado, not California, and MacArthur represents New Jersey, not New York.