GOP leaders’ focus is on controlling Congress amid presidential doubts

The top Republicans in the House and Senate are closely coordinating their efforts aimed at controlling Congress next year by trading lists of 2012 races they have prioritized. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has given $105,000 to senators and GOP candidates running for the upper chamber, while Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has donated the same amount to House members and candidates.

McConnell told The Hill, “[Boehner] and I both have contributed to the priorities on each other’s sides.” 

The bicameral strategy comes as some high-profile conservatives, including former Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and columnist George Will, have suggested that Congress, not the White House, should be the GOP’s focus this fall. That argument has emerged in the wake of President Obama’s improved polling numbers and growing angst on the right with the GOP presidential field.

Republicans need a net of four seats to capture the Senate (three if Obama loses). Boehner, meanwhile, is defending his new majority, which would become a minority if House Democrats pick up a net of 26 seats in November. 

McConnell has said that his top political goal in the 2012 cycle is to make Obama a one-term president. That statement triggered strong criticism from Democrats, who have repeatedly cited it over the last year, accusing McConnell of obstructionism. 

Regardless, some on Capitol Hill contend that McConnell is far more intent on becoming majority leader, a post he has never held. 

Boehner’s list of priority members in difficult election contests includes Reps. Brian Bilbray (Calif.), Dan Lungren (Calif.), Tom Latham (Iowa), Charlie Bass (N.H.) and Francisco “Quico” Canseco (Texas). 

McConnell’s list includes Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah), who are both facing challenging primaries. Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) and former Sen. George Allen (Va.) have also been deemed priorities by the Kentucky Republican.

Boehner and McConnell have a close working relationship despite tension that emerged between the two amid the payroll tax debate in December.

McConnell indicated that he and Boehner have exchanged lists of priority races “frequently.”

He added, “I’ll give him a list of my priorities, he’ll give me a list of his priorities. I contribute. He contributes.” 

It is clear, however, that the Republican leaders are stepping up their political donations to their House and Senate counterparts.

At this point in the 2010 cycle, McConnell and Boehner had only given a combined $35,000 to members and candidates on the other side of the Capitol, according to Federal Election Commission data. 

The political stakes are higher this year. Republicans feel they have a good chance to control both the House and Senate next year, a dynamic that Armey has likened to a “legislative fence” around the White House. 

Boehner’s leadership PAC spokesman Cory Fritz told The Hill that the Speaker is committed to winning back the Senate, as well as holding on to the House. 

“Strengthening our conservative House majority is the Speaker’s top priority, but he also recognizes what Republican control of the Senate would mean advancing measures to cut spending, repeal ObamaCare and help remove barriers to private-sector job creation. We’re happy to do what we can to help Leader McConnell and his team at the [National Republican Senatorial Committee],” Fritz said.

Democratic leaders are also upping the ante, giving more than they did last cycle, though not matching the Boehner/McConnell donations. 

According to the most recent filings, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) leadership PAC, the Searchlight Fund, has donated $42,500 to eight House candidates, including Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who is in a tough primary against Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.). 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) leadership PAC, PAC to the Future, has doled out to Senate hopefuls, including Democratic Reps. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii).

A number of House GOP members in tough races did not receive contributions from McConnell, including Reps. Allen West (Fla.), Judy Biggert (Ill.), Joe Heck (Nev.) and Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.), among others. It was unclear if they were on the list that Boehner gave to his Senate counterpart. 

Likewise, Boehner did not contribute to GOP candidates in competitive races in Missouri, New Mexico or Wisconsin. There are multiple Republican candidates vying in each of the primaries in those states.

McConnell’s list to Boehner did not include GOP candidates in competitive races in Missouri, New Mexico or Wisconsin. There are multiple Republican candidates vying in each of the primaries in those states. 

Republicans note there is a lot of time to donate to other candidates, pointing out that there are 245 days until the election.

Boehner donations to Senate GOP members/candidates

Ex-Sen. George Allen (Va.)

Rep. Rick Berg (N.D.)

Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.)

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah)

Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.)

Ex-Rep. Pete Hoekstra (Mich.)

Ex-Gov. Linda Lingle (Hawaii)

Sen. Dick Lugar (Ind.) 

Josh Mandel (Ohio)

Rep. Denny Rehberg (Mont.)

Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) (will not seek reelection)

McConnell donations to House GOP members/candidates

Andy Barr (Ky.)

Rep. Charlie Bass (N.H.)

Rep. Dan Benishek (Mich.)

Rep. Brian Bilbray (Calif.)

Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (Texas)

Rep. Mike Coffman (Colo.) 

Rep. Paul Gosar (Ariz.) 

Rep. Leonard Lance (N.J.)

Rep. Tom Latham (Iowa)

Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.)

Rep. Bobby Schilling (Ill.)