Defying pundits, GOP claims field of competitive races is narrowing

While Democrats and many independent analysts say that the field of competitive races in the House is growing, Republican officials yesterday claimed that some GOP lawmakers can rest easy.

Seizing on recent news reports, the Republican National Committee (RNC) distributed a list yesterday declaring that 14 once-competitive House GOP seats are no longer endangered.

The RNC and the Republican campaign chief in the House both point to the decision by national Democrats not to fund Democratic candidates in seats throughout the country.

Citing articles in local media, the RNC list distributed yesterday included 14 GOP-held seats that it is confident it will retain this fall. The list was broken into two tiers though it was unclear at press time why RNC split the lawmakers into two groupings.

The first tier includes the seats filled by Reps. Jeb Bradley (N.H.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), Mike Ferguson (N.J.), Jon Porter (Nev.) and John Sweeney (N.Y.).

The second tier include the seats held by Reps. John Doolittle (Calif.), Richard Pombo (Calif.), Ric Keller (Fla.), Ron Lewis (Ky.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), James Walsh (N.Y.) and Frank Wolf (Va.) and two open seats in Florida which are being vacated by Reps. Mike Bilirakis and Katherine Harris.

Democrats hardly agree with the RNC. Several of the14 Republicans cited by the RNC are targets of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) “Red to Blue Program,” including Pombo, Porter, and Sweeney.

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), told members during an hour-long closed-door session at the Capitol Hill Club that the field has narrowed drastically, members and staff present said afterward.

Those remarks are a dramatic turn from earlier this year when Reynolds warned members that Democrats were poised for a strong showing this fall, citing their fundraising advantage to begin the summer.

A Democratic campaign aide said, “It’s clear that Tom Reynolds doesn’t want to talk about how the rapidly expanding landscape has expanded beyond his wildest dreams and has forced him to raise more and spend more than he ever thought he would.”

“I hope they don’t think these seats are competitive because Democrats are strong in their seats. They may well be whistling past their graves.”

The aide added that the DCCC went on the air in Sweeney’s district yesterday.

During the briefing yesterday, Reynolds divided the country into four regions – the Northeast, the Midwest, the South and the West – and showed GOP lawmakers how Republican candidates had caught up to their Democratic counterparts in fundraising from the end of June to the end of July, members and staff present said afterward.

Reynolds told members that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had a $5.5 million cash-on-hand advantage over the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) as of June 30.

By the end of July, Republicans had outraised Democrats enough for the NRCC to post a $1.1 million advantage in cash-on-hand over the DCCC, thanks in large part to receipts from the annual President’s Dinner and the beginning of the GOP’s Battleground Program to fund competitive seats.

Reynolds also showed members of the conference yesterday that individual Republican candidates had closed their gap on the competition by erasing a $7.2 million deficit in total receipts at the end of June to boast a $200,000 edge by the end of July.

To further boost those efforts, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who has been charged with running the so-called Battleground Program, accepted $2.2 million in donations yesterday, bringing the total to $13.2 million, a Cantor aide said yesterday.

That windfall is due in part to a surprising $602,500 donation by Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) that raised the eyebrows of members and staff present.

“I think we are at a critical juncture,” Shadegg said yesterday.

“This could be … the most important election in my lifetime” from a national security standpoint,” Shadegg said. “I think [withdrawing U.S. troops] would embolden Iran, embolden radical Islam, embolden even North Korea.”

The outspoken conservative, who ran unsuccessfully for majority leader earlier this year, has never been a major donor to the party, but he told the Speaker that intends to give more money to the party this cycle.

Shadegg said much of the money was from large donors who wrote checks directly to the NRCC on his behalf.

“It took a lot of work, but I have a lot of friends,” Shadegg said.

Other big donors yesterday included Reps. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), who gave the NRCC $300,000, and Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who contributed $250,000, staff present said. GOP candidate Kevin McCarthy, who is running to succeed retiring Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), gave another $25,000 to contribute a combined $50,000 to the Republican campaign committee before he is even elected to serve. McCarthy is expected to easily win his race this fall.