Republicans express frustrations with campaign spending after midterm House losses

Republicans express frustrations with campaign spending after midterm House losses
© Greg Nash

Top Republicans went into Tuesday’s election anticipating they would lose seats in the House, but a number of people within the party say they feel more could have been done to save vulnerable districts.

Critics argue a combination of poorly run campaigns and spending decisions by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and outside groups resulted in unnecessary losses.

"I think overall the entire NRCC operation this cycle is a tremendous disappointment. They did not keep retirements low, they had the lowest spending on IE [independent expenditures] in the last five cycles, they misused resources and spent in places that we had no chance of winning, for example, Colorado 6 and Virginia 10,” one former NRCC aide told The Hill.

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With a number of members losing by a narrow margin, GOP operatives are expressing frustrations with the NRCC for having gone all-in on races where incumbents — including Reps. Barbara ComstockBarbara Jean ComstockVirginia New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president GOP lawmaker defends Mia Love from Trump attacks: 'I was disgusted when I heard it' MORE (R-Va.), for whom the NRCC spent $5 million, and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanColorado New Members 2019 Defeated Republicans mocked by Trump fire back at president Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress MORE (R-Colo.), in whose district upwards of $2 million was spent — had long been projected to lose.

Meanwhile, vulnerable incumbents like Reps. Scott TaylorScott William TaylorVirginia New Members 2019 Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — First lady's office pushes for ouster of national security aide | Trump taps retired general as ambassador to Saudis | Mattis to visit border troops | Record number of female veterans to serve in Congress Record number of female veterans to serve in next Congress MORE (R-Va.), Dave Brat (R-Va.) and Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) received less financial support despite polls showing they were in competitive districts.

Another well-placed GOP aide said conservatives in the conference are particularly discontented with the NRCC’s spending strategy, with many feeling like the House GOP’s campaign arm opted to prioritize those who fall in line with leadership over viable wins.

“Among conservatives, there is definitely some disgruntlement because some of the members in more winnable seats are conservative, and it's not like they were just putting some money into Comstock’s district - it was ungodly amounts,” the source told The Hill. “It was just money that was flushed down the drain, you know, the polling consistently came back that the money wasn't helping.”

Sources cited House Rules Committee Chairman Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTexas New Members 2019 Congress is going to make marijuana moves McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote MORE’s (R-Texas) — who previously served as the NRCC chairman — as another example of a race were funds were misdirected, noting he had nearly $1.6 million of untouched money in his war chest to defend his own seat. Sessions was ultimately defeated by his Democratic opponent, former NFL player Collin Allred.

One Republican operative noted the NRCC’s decision to place an ad buy in July — when rates were substantially cheaper — in Florida’s 26th, then cancel it in September before rebuying it one day later proved to be an extremely costly misstep.

“One decision cost $600,000 — that's huge,” the source said, citing a report by The Associated Press. “I mean, so, that money could have been very helpful for folks like — it looks like Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelDem pollster says women candidates are better at connecting with voters on personal level Georgia New Members 2019 The Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to Paris as attorney general controversy intensifies MORE [(R-Ga.)] might lose, Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveElection Countdown: Florida Senate race heads to hand recount | Dem flips Maine House seat | New 2020 trend - the 'friend-raiser' | Ad war intensifies in Mississippi runoff | Blue wave batters California GOP Election Countdown: Hyde-Smith's 'public hanging' joke shakes up Mississippi runoff | New lawsuits in Florida | Trump wants Florida election official fired | Mia Love sues to stop Utah vote count | Republican MacArthur loses NJ House race Mia Love suing to stop vote count in Utah MORE [(R-Utah)] — those races that were kind of on the edge, maybe that money could have been helpful.”

With historical trends in Democrats’ favor, the opposing party’s record-breaking fundraising levels and the president’s favorability rating low in a number of key districts, some argue the NRCC and other outside groups did all they could do to mitigate losses. Defenders note the midterms ultimately didn’t see the blue wave for which Democrats were hoping.

“The reality is, the first midterms of a presidency, the president’s party tends to lose seats in the House. This was a totally normal occurrence and quite predictable. It’s hard to fight against those political headwinds. I actually think [Republicans] did about as well as they could,” Liz Mair, a political strategist and former Republican National Committee spokeswoman, told The Hill in an email.

“About the only thing the NRCC really could have done would maybe have been to kidnap the president and some other [Republicans] spouting problematic rhetoric — ahem, Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingIowa governor: Steve King needs to decide if he wants to represent ‘the values of the 4th District’ Conservative magazine posts recording of King using derogatory language against immigrants How Steve King turned his back on states’ rights for Big Ag MORE — lock them in a closet with food and water and bathroom facilities but no cell phones or method of communication and let things flow from there, but that would be … illegal, among other things,” she added, name-dropping the controversial representative from Iowa.

In the wake of the losses, NRCC Chairman Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversDemocrat Katie Porter unseats GOP's Mimi Walters House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Conservative magazine posts recording of King using derogatory language against immigrants MORE (R-Ohio) announced he will not seek another term as the House GOP’s campaign head.

The NRCC did not respond to a request for comment.