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The Down-Ballot Consequences of Trump’s VP Options


— As Donald Trump ponders his running mate options, he and his team should at least consider the possibility that his VP choice could put a down-ballot office, particularly a Senate seat, in play in a future election.

— That said, because nearly all of Trump’s rumored possible running mates are from reddish or outright red districts and states, his VP pick would not immediately cost Republicans an office.

— Selecting Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) or J.D. Vance (R-OH) could hypothetically put an extra Senate race on the competitive map in 2026, but not necessarily. Any selection from Florida would create logistical and/or legal complications because of the 12th Amendment.

Trump VP consideration down the ballot

Unlike Joe Biden’s selection of then-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate four years ago, which ended up being reasonably predictable in advance, Donald Trump’s eventual choice seems like a bigger mystery. Recent buzz has centered around Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND), who would seem to pass the “first, do no harm” Hippocratic Oath-based maxim that we think is a reasonable guide for running mate selection. But there are many other possible candidates, and we do not really see a clear favorite among them.

The “first, do no harm” guidance should probably also be considered in light of what might happen, down the ballot, if a running mate selection actually becomes vice president. The prospect of losing an officeholder who holds a vulnerable seat probably should be part of the consideration for running mates. For instance, it’s possible that Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) might have made a good running mate for either Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden in the 2016 or 2020 elections, but Democrats facing the prospect of immediately losing his Senate seat thanks to a Republican governor appointing his replacement likely weighed heavily against him being selected.

As we survey the long list of reported running mate possibilities, we wondered whether any of them present down-ballot problems for Republicans if they were to become vice president. None of them very obviously do, although a few of them could, particularly in the context of a 2026 midterm election that would be conducted with Trump in the White House (because for almost all of these options, we are assuming that they wouldn’t leave their current office unless they actually got elected as vice president—although the candidates from Florida complicate that assumption, as we’ll get into).

Different news organizations vary in who they include in their long list of contenders. Here are names we’ve seen mentioned here or there, listed alphabetically by their current office. Ballotpedia’s long, helpful list of potential candidates formed the basis of this list, although we made a few additions and subtractions to it:

Sitting senators: Katie Britt (R-AL), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Scott (R-SC), and J.D. Vance (R-OH)

Sitting U.S. House representatives: Byron Donalds (R, FL-19), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R, GA-14), and Elise Stefanik (R, NY-21)

Sitting governors: Greg Abbott (R-TX), Burgum, Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Kim Reynolds (R-IA), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-AR), and Glenn Youngkin (R-VA)

Not currently in office: Former HUD Secretary Ben Carson, former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Democrat-turned-independent former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, current Arizona Senate candidate Kari Lake, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and 2024 presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. We will set these possibilities aside because none are currently in office, so even if they became vice president, it would not have any impact on a currently GOP-held office.

This is obviously, and intentionally, a very long list, and reporting has already indicated that some of these names are likely not under real consideration by Trump. For instance, Trump quickly responded to an Axios report that Haley, his top 2024 nomination rival, was a VP possibility by saying she is not under consideration (Haley did say on Wednesday that she plans to vote for Trump in the fall). Trump has also reportedly soured on Lake and Noem, the former because of her 2022 gubernatorial loss and a thus-far uninspiring Senate run and the latter because of a widely-reported admission that would not exactly endear her to dog lovers. Several of the others, like DeSantis, seem far-fetched, at least at this point. Ultimately, only one person is going to be chosen.

This list of potential running mates above includes 15 possibilities who currently hold elected office as a senator, governor, or House representative. Of those 15, 14 represent states or districts that Donald Trump carried for president in 2020, many of them in convincing fashion. The lone exception is Youngkin, a sitting governor who is ineligible to run for reelection because of Biden-won Virginia’s unique prohibition on governors seeking a second straight term. So we are mainly talking about Republicans having to hold a red-leaning or strongly Republican district or state in the event of a current officeholder becoming vice president.

Of these three categories of offices—senators, House representatives, and governors—senators are the most valuable. After all, there are only 100 of them, whereas there are 435 House members—losing a single Senate seat could have a bearing on who controls the chamber, whereas a single House seat is unlikely to have that much bearing (although the House is close enough that it hypothetically could). There are only 50 governors, but the identity of a governor has no bearing on the balance of power in Congress.

Let’s start with the senators and then move to the others.


This conversation has to start with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), whose possible selection includes a number of hurdles and uncertainties.

First of all, any running mate from Florida would share the same state of residence as Trump, who changed his residence from New York several years ago. Because of the 12th Amendment, a presidential ticket could run into trouble if both occupants are residents of the same state, because the amendment suggests that electors from that state cannot cast electoral votes for both members of the ticket. In a close election won by Trump, the potential loss of Florida’s 30 electoral votes might leave a Florida running mate shy of an Electoral College majority (which could force the Senate to pick the vice president, in a process we detailed recently in the Crystal Ball). So a Florida running mate—with Rubio the likeliest possibility—likely would want to establish residence elsewhere (or maybe Trump would instead). If a sitting senator actively moved out of the state he represented, that might raise some questions about whether that person could continue in office. The Constitution stipulates that “No Person shall be a Senator… who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” So maybe Rubio could establish residency in a different state but still retain his Senate seat, because of that “when elected” caveat? This is murky. Long-time Florida reporter Marc Caputo had an excellent piece looking at all these questions for the Bulwark recently.

If Rubio did resign after being selected as Trump’s running mate—presumably sometime shortly before the July 15-18 Republican National Convention in Milwaukee—Gov. DeSantis would appoint a replacement, obviously a Republican. It is also unclear whether there would be enough time to hold a special election in 2024 or whether it would be kicked until 2026. This would be a special election for the remainder of Rubio’s term, which runs through 2028. The seat would potentially be easier for Republicans to defend in the presidential year of 2024 than the midterm year of 2026, which could be a 2018-style wave against the Republicans if Trump wins in 2024 (although it must be noted that Republicans narrowly flipped a Democratic-held Senate seat in Florida amidst that 2018 Democratic wave). Caputo also addressed the timing of a potential special election in depth; that too is an open question.

This same consideration holds for the possibility of Sen. J.D. Vance (D-OH) being selected. Vance, because he is in a different state than Trump, wouldn’t have any need to resign his seat prior to the election. If this ticket won, Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) would appoint Vance’s replacement, with a special election in 2026 and a regular election in 2028. Ohio has lurched to the right in recent years but, in a Democratic-leaning midterm, the seat would be hypothetically vulnerable. So as with Rubio, there might be some risk of losing a Senate seat down the line with Vance becoming VP.

The three other senators noted above, Katie Britt (R-AL), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Tim Scott (R-SC), all come from redder states than Florida and Ohio, so their seats would all presumably be less of a challenge to hold, and all of the states have Republican governors who could appoint Republican replacements. The circumstances for each would be a little different, though.

Scott, like Rubio and Vance, was last elected in 2022, so him ascending to the vice presidency in 2025 would set up a 2026 special election in advance of a 2028 regular election. Democrats would need a very favorable confluence of circumstances to truly compete for a Senate seat in South Carolina.

Cotton, meanwhile, was last elected in 2020, so there would be no special election to replace him prior to the 2026 regular election. Arkansas has become very red over the past couple of decades.

The elevation of Britt, first elected in 2022, would trigger a faster special election, to be held in 2025. We have recent precedent here: When Jeff Sessions (R) left the Senate in early February 2017 upon confirmation as Trump’s first attorney general, Luther Strange got the appointment to replace Sessions, but eventually lost a Republican primary runoff to Roy Moore. Moore subsequently lost a December 2017 special election to Doug Jones (D). Jones’s shocking victory shows that an upset could strike almost anywhere—just as Scott Brown’s (R) stunning Massachusetts Senate win in early 2010 demonstrated on the other side of the aisle—although it was a truly perfect storm of circumstances that allowed those seats to flip.

The bottom line is that the Republicans would start as a favorite to hold any of these seats in a subsequent special or general election, but a 2026 special election in Florida or Ohio could be a competitive contest, particularly if it’s held amidst a Democratic-leaning midterm environment. The aforementioned Jones and Brown both eventually lost their seats when they were on the ballot for regular elections held in presidential years, 2020 and 2012, respectively. This is also a reminder that a hypothetical Democratic Senate special election victory in Florida or Ohio might only be temporary, as those seats are back on the ballot for full terms in the presidential year of 2028.


None of the three House members whose names have come up in VP talk—Reps. Byron Donalds (R, FL-19), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R, GA-14), and Elise Stefanik (R, NY-21)—represent battleground districts. In 2020, Trump won the trio of districts by 21, 37, and 16 points respectively. Currently, the Democrat who holds the “Trumpiest” district is Rep. Mary Peltola (D, AK-AL), whose statewide Alaska at-large district voted for Trump by 10 points. Any U.S. House vacancies in all states are filled through special elections, although the specific timing of such elections varies by state.

Donalds faces the same Florida complications as Rubio but it’s hard to imagine Republicans having much trouble defending his seat in a special election, whenever it would be held. The same is true for Greene’s very Republican district. Stefanik’s district, which voted for Barack Obama twice before swinging to Trump in both of his elections, could hypothetically be in play if the environment was extremely Democratic-leaning at the time of the election—Democrats did run well ahead of the partisan baseline in several House special elections in the 2017-2018 cycle, right after Trump won the presidency. However, Republicans would start a special election clearly favored in this district, too.


Not every state has a lieutenant governor, but most do, including the seven states—Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia—that have governors who have gotten at least some mention as a possible running mate.

Of those states, only one has a gubernatorial election this year: North Dakota. Gov. Doug Burgum has already passed up an opportunity to run for reelection, so joining the ticket would have no bearing on that already-developing race. A couple of recent polls have put Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R, ND-AL) well ahead of Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller (R) as a June 11 primary looms, although one of those polls was an Armstrong internal. Burgum appointed Miller as a replacement lieutenant governor in late 2022, so they did not actually run together in either of Burgum’s victories. North Dakota’s next gubernatorial term begins on Dec. 15, so Burgum would not even need to resign in advance of becoming vice president, as his term would end more than a month before the new presidential administration is inaugurated.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s (R-VA) term runs through 2025, so if he were to become vice president, Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears (R) would finish out his term in the leadup to the 2025 election. That could potentially give her a leg up on the state’s other statewide elected Republican, Attorney General Jason Miyares, in a hypothetical nomination fight, but this is all highly speculative at this point: Unlike the Democratic gubernatorial race, where outgoing Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D, VA-7) has already established herself as a clear favorite to be the nominee, the GOP field for governor has not yet developed, as neither Earle-Sears or Miyares has announced plans for 2025.

The other five governors, Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R-AR), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Kim Reynolds (R-IA), Kristi Noem (R-SD), and Greg Abbott (R-TX), were all last elected in 2022, and Republican lieutenant governors would take over if any of them resigned to become vice president.


Trump is unpredictable enough that we could see him going with at least several of the names we included in this article, and perhaps even with some dark horse possibility who we did not even mention. Assuming Trump does pick someone we mentioned, none of the selections would immediately jeopardize Republican control of a Senate, House, or gubernatorial office—as we noted above, almost all of those mentioned in the Veepstakes reside in places that are either a reddish shade of purple or are clearly red, with the exception of Youngkin, who would be replaced by a Republican lieutenant governor if he became vice president and can’t run for reelection anyway. The nation’s nationalized politics and predictable partisanship likely make it easier for a presidential campaign to make a choice that they can be reasonably confident won’t cause them to lose a seat later on, if they care about such considerations.

That said, a 2026 Senate special election in Florida or Ohio could put a Republican seat in jeopardy, but not necessarily, and if Trump believes that Rubio or Vance would be a good addition to his ticket, the prospect of future special election trouble likely isn’t worth passing up a selection he otherwise might make. We do think the 12th Amendment concerns make selecting any Florida resident a headache, but that can be overcome as well.