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 ComstockLive coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings Gun debate raises stakes in battle for Virginia legislature Progressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats MORE (R-Va.), for whom the NRCC spent $5 million, and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanColorado mayor says he called protesters 'domestic terrorists' out of 'frustration' Colorado governor directs officials to reexamine death of Elijah McClain in police custody Petition demanding justice for Elijah McClain surpasses 2 million signatures 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 TaylorBottom line Bottom line Republican Scott Taylor wins Virginia primary, to face Elaine Luria in rematch 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 SessionsThe Hill's Campaign Report: New polls show Biden leading by landslide margins The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Argentum - In Rose Garden, Trump launches anti-Biden screed Pete Sessions wins GOP runoff in comeback bid 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 HandelQAnon backer Marjorie Taylor Greene wins Georgia GOP runoff The Hill's Campaign Report: Even the Post Office is political now | Primary action tonight | Super PACS at war NRCC poll finds McBath ahead of Handel in Georgia MORE [(R-Ga.)] might lose, Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveFormer NFL player Burgess Owens wins Utah GOP primary The Hill's Campaign Report: The political heavyweights in Tuesday's primary fights The biggest political upsets of the decade 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 KingWin by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP JD Scholten says he doesn't need DCCC to win Iowa seat The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden builds big lead in battleground Florida 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 StiversNational Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus Stronger patent rights would help promote US technological leadership Republicans to introduce House version of Scott police reform bill 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.