In bad news for those still tired out from the ads and campaign chaos wrought by the 2022 midterms, the 2024 election cycle is already picking up steam as incumbents facing reelection begin announcing their plans and challengers gear up to try and flip seats to their party's column.
On Friday, Democrat U.S. Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia announced that he would seek another term in the upper chamber, moving attention to the Commonwealth's Republicans and raising questions about who could mount a challenge to unseat Hillary Clinton's 2016 running mate.
I’m happy to announce that I will seek re-election in 2024 to keep delivering results for Virginia! I love the Commonwealth and its citizens and want to keep being your Senator. I hope to earn your support once again to battle for Virginia priorities in Congress.— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) January 20, 2023
One such Republican whose name is bouncing around: Hung Cao, a conservative who ran for U.S. House in Virginia's 10th Congressional District in the midterms and, despite making significant progress in turning out Republicans to retire Democrat Jennifer Wexton, ultimately came up short.
But as Kaine officially launches his campaign to stick around for another six years in the U.S. Senate, there's buzz in the Commonwealth that Cao is being actively recruited — a prospect Cao is apparently considering, according to a source close to him.
Cao was a great candidate for the House, and he might be Republicans' best hope to flip a Senate seat and send Kaine out to pasture. As many learned during his 2022 campaign, a four-year-old Cao and his family fled to the United States as refugees from communism just before the fall of Saigon. He then went on to graduate from the Naval Academy and become a Navy Captain (now retired) working with Special Forces around the world. "The U.S. gave me a home, a flag to stand under, and an opportunity," Cao noted during his run. "I’ve been committed to returning the favor ever since."
His story — did we mention he and his wife homeschool their five children? — is one that clearly resonated in the 10th District in 2022 and would likely carry in a statewide race for U.S. Senate. Virginia as a whole is, after all, generally a handful of points more Republican than the 10th Congressional District.
After Cao won the GOP primary for the 2022 House race, even The Washington Post noted he had "a personal story that many voters said they found compelling as he maximized outreach in minority communities and hit on some of the same themes — such as fighting 'indoctrination' in education — that carried Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to victory."
In his 2022 House primary, Cao defeated ten GOP opponents — including the most well-funded — with limited name recognition, proving he and his message had what's needed to win votes with little more than hard work and old school politicking to sell a candidacy with priorities that fit the moment.
In his general election campaign for U.S. House, Cao cut into Wexton's margin from 13 points in 2020 to just five in 2022 — in a district Biden had carried by 19 points. He also managed to haul in more than $3.2 million in campaign funds despite starting out with little financial backing, landing him among the most successful GOP challengers nationwide in the 2022 cycle.
Whether Cao decides to throw his hat in the ring for U.S. Senate or not, he's someone with a future in Virginia and maybe even national politics. His story and the values he espoused during the 2022 campaign struck the right nerve with a lot of voters, and he just might be Republicans' best shot at taking down Tim Kaine in 2024.