Portman and Cruz plan to focus on fundraising, recruitment for NRSC

The new vice chairmen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) have unusually specific tasks heading into 2014: fundraising and recruitment.

Both elements are crucial to a successful election cycle, and the early, precise focus by newly elected Chairman Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) demonstrates a shake-up in committee structure meant to avoid the losses that plagued Republicans in 2012.

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Moran has tasked Sen.-elect Ted Cruz (R-Texas) with grassroots and Hispanic outreach. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has been given the goal of energizing donors fatigued from an election in which they saw a disappointing return on their investments.

The trio has met at least twice since the announcement of new NRSC leadership last Wednesday, and a senior Moran aide said the three will continue to meet and discuss plans for 2014 over the phone until they all return to the Senate in January.

The move by Moran to bring in joint vice chairmen with specific goals for each senator is a largely reactive effort to prevent the kind of missteps — like in Indiana and Missouri — that cost the party seats this year. 

One subject likely to come up repeatedly among the three: the question of whether to get involved in primaries.

In 2010, the NRSC was active in the nominating contests and faced backlash from conservatives — and lost seats that looked like easy wins. In 2012, the group took a more laissez-faire approach to primary competitions, with no better results.

Matt Schlapp, President George W. Bush’s political director during his first term, said that the GOP realizes the question of primary involvement is one it has to answer this cycle if it hopes to have a more successful 2014.

“The critical question over the last couple of cycles for the NRSC has been navigating these primaries. Chairman Moran and the Republican Conference together believe they should fix this primary question,” he said.

Schlapp said that having a vice chairman with his finger on the pulse of state party organizations and grassroots movements would better help the committee understand which candidates were best suited for the local political climate.

And Cruz, who quickly rose from a relative unknown to topple establishment candidate Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Texas GOP Senate primary, is well-suited for that role.

He could help the GOP avoid the pitfalls of 2010, when the committee faced backlash from conservatives for supporting party-favored candidates.

“If they’re going to get involved, they have to make sure they get involved in a way that doesn’t alienate parts of their base,” Schlapp said.

A Moran aide wouldn’t confirm whether the NRSC would be playing a larger role in primaries this cycle, noting the committee’s structure is still taking shape, but did say the appointment of Cruz to a specific position handling grassroots outreach indicates “more of an emphasis” on recruitment.

“It’s a different approach — it’ll be a lot more active, more in touch with the states, and that’s kind of Cruz’s thing,” he said. 

Portman’s job is on the fundraising side. The Ohio senator and former director of the Office of Management and Budget, who served as a leading surrogate for Mitt Romney, had been encouraged to run for NRSC chairman.

But, according to a Portman aide, the vice-chairman job appealed to the senator because he could be involved in fundraising while participating in negotiations between Republicans and Democrats over the looming fiscal cliff, tax and entitlement reform and other high-profile budgetary matters.

If Portman had decided to run for NRSC chairman and won, it would have been for his strength as a fundraiser —he has one of the deepest national fundraising networks of any Republican lawmaker, according to multiple GOP sources.

“I don’t think there are many people in Washington that have the fundraising connections that Rob does across the country,” said Barry Bennett, a Republican strategist who served as Portman’s campaign manager when he successfully ran for Congress.

In the last election cycle, Portman raised $2 million for the NRSC, behind only Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Portman was the top freshman fundraiser for the NRSC that year. He also raised $3 million for Romney, according to Republican sources.

The fact that the vice-chairman job still involves fundraising, but not the time commitment of the actual chairmanship, is what appealed to Portman.

“That’s why this is a good role for me, because it’s not a full-time responsibility, so I think it’ll fit well,” Portman said.

For Portman, a big part of his job will be turning the page from 2012, when Democrats won Senate seats in Indiana and Massachusetts, expanding their majority to 55 after Sen.-elect Angus King (I-Maine) announced he would caucus with them.

Portman said a big part of his job will be to reinvigorate tired donors. He said that there’s no all-encompassing strategy for keeping top GOP donors involved.  

“It’s just being sure that our donors know we appreciate them,” Portman said. “There’s some donor fatigue right now, as you can imagine.”

Portman suggested that that fatigue stems from a feeling by donors of not being recognized enough.

“I think for every donor it’s going to be a little different, but I think — I mean, look, I was involved in fundraising in the House, when I was out of office for a while, and in the Senate I think that sometimes donors don’t feel like they get the opportunity to really be heard,” Portman said.



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