Koch strategists warn donors of ‘daunting’ electoral landscape for GOP

Koch strategists warn donors of ‘daunting’ electoral landscape for GOP
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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Senior strategists for the network of conservative groups funded by billionaire businessmen Charles and David Koch warned donors on Monday about the “daunting” political landscape Republicans face as they seek to maintain majorities in the House and Senate.

In a private presentation given to the hundreds of six-figure donors gathered at an exclusive resort in the California desert, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) CEO Emily Seidel said the network has “never faced a challenge like this one.”

“These elections are going to be brutally tough,” Seidel said.

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Democrats need to flip 24 seats to reclaim a majority in the House. The GOP’s efforts to protect their majority has been complicated by 16 lawmaker retirements. Generic ballot polling shows Democrats with a double-digit lead in the House.

There are worries that the approval ratings for President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE and the GOP’s congressional leaders will be a drag on the party. Historically, the party in power loses seats in a midterm election.

AFP President Tim Phillips has been warning donors all weekend about the growing political energy on the left, which has produced upset victories by Democrats in special elections in Wisconsin and Alabama this year.

Some political analysts believe 2018 could be a wave election year for Democrats.

The Koch network plans to fight back by spending $400 million this cycle to promote GOP candidates and conservative causes.

AFP’s strategy entails flooding the zone with early paid advertising for Senate races, when ads are cheaper and voters are still making up their minds. 

The Koch network has already been running ads in Wisconsin and Florida and plans to saturate competitive markets between now and July.

Over the summer, AFP will draw down its advertising and activate its network of volunteers for phone banks, door knocking and town hall events. AFP, the Koch network’s premier grassroots and organizing political arm, has been building out its operations since 2005 and has thousands of employees and volunteers across 36 states.

There are 34 seats up for grabs in the Senate, where Democrats will be defending 24 seats. Republicans presently hold a razor-thin 51-49 majority in the upper chamber.

The Koch network says it will only spend in competitive states and will not rush to support Republicans that appear headed for certain defeat or those within the party they view as unprincipled conservatives.

They are presently analyzing 14 states where they believe their money could help. So far, the Koch network is committed to playing in Wisconsin, Missouri, Indiana and Florida — four states with Democratic incumbents they believe are vulnerable. 

AFP does not play in the primaries, so early ads will likely focus on the Democrats until the GOP candidates are known.

In the House, Democrats need to flip 24 seats to take control. Twenty-three Republicans are running for reelection in districts that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton: FBI investigation into Kavanaugh could be done quickly Hillary Clinton urges Americans to 'check and reject' Trump's 'authoritarian tendencies' by voting in midterms EXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency MORE carried in 2016 and the GOP has also been stung by 16 retirements. Open races are tougher to defend than those with incumbents.

Overall, Phillips said the network has identified 80 competitive districts that will be up for grabs.

“These are daunting numbers,” Phillips said.

“This year we’re on defense,” he added.

The Koch network is also committed to playing in governor’s races in Nevada, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Florida and is analyzing 10 others. They will also play in state legislative races.

In addition, the network will focus on policies and the GOP’s legislative achievements, like the tax overhaul. The Koch network will spend $20 million this year touting the tax bill — an issue Republicans believe is gaining in popularity and could buffer them against the stiff 2018 political headwinds.

“History and the current political climate mean that 2018 will be a difficult year,” said Seidel. “We’ve never faced a challenge like this year brings but we see pathways to success. It’s going to require we stay sharp and dynamic, using our business-like approach to make tough tradeoffs and adjust our strategy as the landscape changes.”