GOP lawmakers huddle with donors to discuss winning control of Senate

CLEARWATER BEACH, FLA. — Republican senators and major donors huddled at a private yacht club Monday in this quiet beach enclave outside of Tampa to discuss their strategy for taking back the upper chamber.

Republicans have been buffeted over the past week about speculation of whether they can capture the upper chamber without winning Missouri, a race that had seemed in their grasp before Senate candidate Todd Akin created a firestorm last week with comments about “legitimate rape.”

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Twenty-seven miles away from throngs of police officers, delegates and reporters at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, senators had lunch with some of their biggest supporters in an elegant clubhouse of the Carlouel Yacht Club.

Sens. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchKoch groups: Don't renew expired tax breaks in government funding bill Hatch tweets link to 'invisible' glasses after getting spotted removing pair that wasn't there DHS giving ‘active defense’ cyber tools to private sector, secretary says MORE (Utah), Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Congress should take the lead on reworking a successful Iran deal North Korea tensions ease ahead of Winter Olympics MORE (Tenn.), John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump’s infrastructure plan may slip to next month Overnight Finance: Trump, lawmakers take key step to immigration deal | Trump urges Congress to bring back earmarks | Tax law poised to create windfall for states | Trump to attend Davos | Dimon walks back bitcoin criticism Trump's infrastructure team to huddle with senators MORE (Wyo.), Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators eager for Romney to join them The House needs to help patients from being victimized by antiquated technology Comey’s original Clinton memo released, cites possible violations MORE (Wis.), Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranDoug Jones to become only Dem senator with black chief of staff Congress should stand for rural America by enhancing broadband connectivity Immigrant entrepreneurs are vital to American prosperity MORE (Kan.), Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP senators eager for Romney to join them Senate GOP wary of ending Russia probes, despite pressure GOP on precipice of major end-of-year tax victory MORE (Mo.) and Jon Kyl (Ariz.) attended the meeting.

Bursts of wind and rain made it too wet to enjoy the waterside tennis courts, private beach or marina, but the donors were focused on the more pressing challenge of how to broaden the offensive against Democratic-held seats. Republicans need to pick up at least four seats to control the Senate if President Obama is reelected in November.

Political analysts have downgraded Republican chances of defeating Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillNSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Senate campaign fundraising reports roll in Dems search for winning playbook MORE (D-Mo.) after Akin’s comments prompted Crossroads GPS, a Republican super-PAC, to pull its ads in Missouri. And the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has stated that it won’t commit resources to Missouri unless Akin withdraws from the race.

Republicans fear that Akin’s refusal to get out could keep the Senate in Democratic hands.

Some of the NRSC’s biggest donors met with Chairman John CornynJohn CornynMcCarthy: ‘No deadline on DACA’ NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Hoyer suggests Dems won't support spending bill without DACA fix MORE (R-Texas) to discuss ways to help GOP candidates in states that were seen as less likely pickups.

Cornyn introduced Rep. Connie Mack (R), who is challenging Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Week ahead: Tech giants to testify on extremist content Puerto Rico's children need recovery funds MORE (D) in Florida; New Jersey state Sen. Joe Kyrillos, who is running against Sen.

Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezCongress must provide flexible funding for owners of repeatedly flooded properties Senate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Judge declares mistrial in Menendez bribery case MORE (D-N.J.); and former Texas solicitor general Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWith religious liberty memo, Trump made America free to be faithful again Interstate compacts aren't the right way to fix occupational licensing laws Texas Dem: ‘I don’t know what to believe’ about what Trump wants for wall MORE, the heavy favorite to succeed Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).

Polls show the Mack-Nelson race is competitive, while Menendez is heavily favored to win reelection.

An attendee said Cruz, who is expected to win easily in the red state of Texas, pledged to raise money for other candidates.

Sources said Cornyn did not discuss Akin’s future as a candidate.

Donors left the meeting saying they remain optimistic of capturing the Senate, emphasizing their chances of winning races that political analysts for most of this election cycle have considered tougher GOP opportunities. They said presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney also could give Republican candidates in Virginia, Ohio and other states a boost by pulling ahead of Obama.

“Momentum at the top of the ticket could very well provide the boost a lot of Senate candidates in tough races could use to get over the hump,” said Matt Dolan, a Republican donor and attorney from Maryland.

One donor said Republicans also could win in Wisconsin or Hawaii, arguing that Democratic infighting during the primary season in Obama’s home state could give former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle a path to victory.

Another attendee noted a recent Mitchell poll that showed Republican Pete Hoekstra with a 1-point lead over Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate Finance Dems want more transparency on trade from Trump Prominent Michigan Republican drops out of Senate primary GOP chairman shoots down Democrat effort to delay tax work until Jones is seated MORE (D-Mich.). However, a Detroit News poll from a few days ago gave Stabenow a 7-point lead over Hoekstra. Political analysts say Hoekstra has an uphill battle to oust Stabenow.

The enthusiasm of Republican donors intensified last month, when the NRSC outraised the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, $6 million to $5.84 million.

Major donors included a media mogul who said he supported Obama in 2008 but decided to back Romney in 2012 because he believes the president’s economic policies have proved ineffective.

Most donors who spoke to The Hill requested anonymity, expressing their preference to stay out of the spotlight. The NRSC kept the meeting low profile by not publicizing its address and holding it across the bay from the convention center.

Donors were split about Akin’s impact on the battle for control of the Senate. Two said they would not give him any money and said he should drop out of the race. Another said he would give to Akin “in a heartbeat” and said it would be “disproportionate” punishment to force him from the race when his comments were made from a sincere desire to limit abortions.

The donor who expressed support for Akin said he could still beat McCaskill and predicted the furor of his comments would die down next month.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSessions: 'We should be like Canada' in how we take in immigrants NSA spying program overcomes key Senate hurdle Overnight Finance: Lawmakers see shutdown odds rising | Trump calls for looser rules for bank loans | Consumer bureau moves to revise payday lending rule | Trump warns China on trade deficit MORE (R-Ky.), who has called for Akin to step aside, told reporters from USA Today on Monday, “We can take the Senate without Missouri. It’d be a lot easier to take it with Missouri.”

Cornyn and McConnell will meet with another group of major donors at a private breakfast Tuesday morning. A Senate Republican source said only that it would take place at an “area hotel.”

Donors said they were happy with Romney’s campaign and that he could take a decisive lead over Obama by outperforming him in this fall’s debates.

One said he thought it unlikely that Josh Mandel could defeat Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Commerce sends Trump long-awaited steel report GOP Rep. Jim Renacci announces Ohio Senate bid MORE (D-Ohio) or that former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) could beat Democrat Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenate campaign fundraising reports roll in Afghanistan moves reignite war authorization debate Ralph Northam sworn in as Virginia governor MORE in Virginia unless Romney wins in those states.