By J. Taylor Rushing and Bob Cusack - 04/25/10 06:46 PM EDT
The Republican National Committee (RNC) is going all in to win back control of the House and Senate.
RNC spokesman Doug Heye said committee chairman Michael Steele is committed to using most, if not all, of its cash on hand in this year’s midterm elections.
How much to spend on this year’s midterms is not a tough call for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). President Barack Obama, who shattered all fundraising records in 2008, will be able to quickly restock DNC’s coffers after this cycle to prepare for his likely bid for a second term.
Four years ago, frustrated congressional Democrats had to go into prolonged negotiations with then-DNC Chairman Howard Dean to convince him to invest in the 2006 midterm elections. DNC subsequently spent all of its cash on hand that year, but significant sums went to Dean’s 50-state strategy. At the time, Democrats on Capitol Hill, including now-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, questioned cash infusions to solidly red states.
A key difference between Dean then and Steele now is that Steele’s term is up at the end of this cycle while Dean stayed on at the DNC during the 2008 presidential campaign. Like Dean, Steele is heading his party’s national committee with the opposing party in the White House.
The RNC, which has attracted criticism this cycle for its spending habits, has $11.4 million cash on hand.
Heye noted that the committee already spent $3 million on the New Jersey governor’s race and $9 million on the Virginia race. The RNC will be spending money on congressional, gubernatorial and local-level races this year.
“Right now we are focused on 2010. We’re committed to large investments,” Heye said.
Heye indicated it remains to be seen if the RNC would go into debt to spend money on the midterms.
Former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman spent nearly $80 million in 2006, depleting the committee’s resources in what ended up as a failed attempt to retain GOP control of the House and Senate.
The party entered the 2008 election cycle with $16.2 million in debt, including $14.4 million from the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), $1.3 million from the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and $500,000 owed by the RNC.
The DNC owed $4 million in debt at the start of the 2008 election cycle, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was $6.6 million in debt and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s tab was $9.3 million.
Key House and Senate Republicans indicated they haven’t yet engaged in extensive discussions with the RNC on how much the committee will help congressional candidates this fall.
NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said the NRSC would be approaching the RNC for financial help this summer and fall, but stopped short of predicting what the RNC will commit to.
“In the past, the RNC has given money to the NRSC and the NRCC to help supplement our efforts. We hope they would help again, but they’ve got a big portfolio,” Cornyn said. “They’ve got to deal with all of these races from top to bottom.
“We operate independently, and of course our focus is solely on the Senate,” Cornyn said of Steele and the NRSC. “We work with him some, like on the Scott Brown race. They put some money into that race like we did, through the Massachusetts Republican Party, but we pretty much operate more or less independently.”
Cornyn also said he visits with Steele about once a month, although there are efforts to talk more regularly “so we can at least try to get something a little more certain and predictable.”
Reeling from a recent embarrassment over a fundraising trip to a racy Hollywood nightclub, Steele’s relations with GOP congressional leaders are said to be strained.
Like Cornyn, House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) told The Hill in a recent interview that he only talks with Steele “every month or two,” and that Steele will have no role in a House GOP redraft of a “Contract With America.”
Meanwhile, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) criticized Steele for a recent RNC retreat in Hawaii and took issue with his public assertion that the party cannot win back control of the House in November. Steele later backtracked on that forecast.
At times, Steele has suggested he has a key role in recruiting congressional candidates. Last November, he called for a “big tent” approach to recruiting candidates in an interview with ABC News while also threatening GOP candidates who support any of Obama’s domestic priorities that “we’ll come after you.”
In January, he told Fox News’ conservative anchor Sean Hannity that the GOP won’t win back the House in 2010, adding that he is “assessing and evaluating” a variety of races.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is charge of recruiting candidates for the NRCC, said the NRCC “does all [recruiting] internally.”
He added there can be times when a GOP official is interested in running for the House and approaches the RNC. The committee will then refer him or her to the NRCC, McCarthy explained.
Cornyn also said he doesn’t consult with Steele on recruiting Senate candidates.
Heye said Steele has a different mission than the congressional campaign committees.
“A lot of what [Steele] does is meet with prospective candidates, but he travels a lot so it’s usually more on the grass-roots level,” Heye said.
On Tuesday, in a pen-and-pad session with reporters, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) was asked how much he is budgeting for the RNC to help NRCC.
"We continue to work very effectively with the RNC on [upcoming House] special elections,” Sessions said. “As you know, we have two right now. They are doing their fair share. To the limit of their ability, I'm sure they will help us… We do not have the White House. We do not have the Senate, nor the House. So we will have to stay after it."
McCarthy has said the best way to win back the White House in 2012 is to win control of Congress this year.
He told The Hill last week, “What better legacy [for Steele] than to win [the House and Senate] back?”
Aaron Blake contributed to this report