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 ComstockGOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door Ex-lawmakers face new scrutiny over lobbying Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign MORE (R-Va.), for whom the NRCC spent $5 million, and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanDenver Post editorial board says Gardner endorsement was 'mistake' Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Gardner gets latest Democratic challenge from former state senator 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 TaylorThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Ex-GOP Rep. Ryan Costello joins group pushing carbon tax Virginia New Members 2019 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 SessionsDem campaign chief: Medicare for All price tag 'a little scary' GOP House super PAC targets two freshman Dems with new ads Top 10 events of 2018 that shaped marijuana policy 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 HandelThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Dem whose son was killed in shooting: Gun violence is the real national emergency, ‘not a wall’ DCCC official says Democrats look to make 'big gains' in Texas, Georgia MORE [(R-Ga.)] might lose, Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveThe 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority Juan Williams: Racial shifts spark fury in Trump and his base Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign 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 KingHateful words demand stronger response from Congress, President Trump Ex-Bush ethics chief calls for Steve King expulsion after he posted meme of potential civil war Steve King deletes Facebook post asking who would win new US civil war 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 StiversThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Schultz recruiting GOP insiders ahead of possible 2020 bid New push to open banks to marijuana industry 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.