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 ComstockProgressives face steep odds in ousting incumbent Democrats K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers GOP lawmaker introduces bill to stop revolving door MORE (R-Va.), for whom the NRCC spent $5 million, and Mike CoffmanMichael (Mike) Howard CoffmanBottom Line Koch political arm endorses Colorado Sen. Gardner 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform 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 TaylorFormer GOP rep launches Senate campaign in Virginia Virginia special prosecutor indicts former GOP campaign staffer The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 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 SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges 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 HandelGOP Georgia congressional candidate withdraws after calling himself a 'white nationalist' Freshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race McBath fundraising off 'get back in the kitchen' remarks MORE [(R-Ga.)] might lose, Mia LoveLudmya (Mia) LoveFormer GOP lawmaker: Trump's tweets have to stop Congressional Women's Softball team releases roster The 31 Trump districts that will determine the next House majority 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 KingSteve King defends remarks on rape, incest The Hill's Morning Report - Trump on defense over economic jitters Steve King says 'left-wing media' and GOP leadership owe him apology after rape, incest comments 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 Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Republicans offer support for Steve King challenger The United States broken patent system is getting worse 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.