A deluge of Democratic spending in the final days of the battle for the House has triggered recriminations among Republicans and forced the party to lean on its biggest patron to salvage their majority.
Since the end of July, Republican candidates in the 70 most contested races have reserved $60 million in TV ads, compared to $109 million for Democratic hopefuls, according to figures compiled by media trackers and reviewed by POLITICO. The disparity is almost certain to grow, as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes good on plans to spend nearly $80 million to help Democrats flip the House.
“From Democrat candidates to outside groups, we’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Brian Walsh, president of the pro-Trump America First Action super PAC. “They are dumping in cash by the truckload.”
Desperate for help, Republicans are turning to their go-to benefactor: Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson. The 85-year-old ally of President Donald Trump has made another contribution in the range of $20 million to the House GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, according to two Republican officials familiar with the donation. Party leaders are hopeful he’ll fork over even more.
Senior Republicans are in touch with other influential givers. On Tuesday, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who’s been in regular contact with Adelson and courted many of the party’s most elite donors in recent weeks, appeared at a board meeting of the influential Republican Jewish Coalition. That evening, at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, he addressed a gathering hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But despite those and other steps, party officials concede they’ll be significantly outspent. On Thursday morning, Corry Bliss, the House GOP super PAC’s executive director, invited about 50 top Beltway lobbyists to his downtown Washington office to make a plea for cash. Bliss walked the group through polling in top races and made the case that the GOP is making late gains.
But the party’s biggest hurdle is money, he said. Bliss told the group that Republicans are facing a “green wave” and that he’s trying to raise another $20 million. That would be in addition to Adelson’s latest contribution.
Charlie Black, a longtime Republican Party hand who attended the breakfast, said the problem isn’t hard to diagnose: Democrats want to send a message to the president, so they’re pumping the war chests of House candidates with online donations.
“We’re raising more money than we usually do on our side, and they’re raising more than they ever do and it’s because of Trump,” Black said. “He’s the great motivator.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee is expected to secure a loan to help the party compete in the final weeks. Party officials declined to divulge the size of the credit line though in previous election years the committee has received loans of between $10 million and $20 million.
NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers has also reached out to party leaders, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, seeking financial help. McCarthy, who spent part of the week in Texas huddling with donors, has transferred $5.7 million to party groups over the past two weeks.
Still, Republicans have hit roadblocks. House GOP aides had hoped to receive a late cash transfer from the Republican National Committee, but they now don’t expect that to happen. The RNC, which is running an extensive national field campaign, has already allocated its remaining funds for the rest of the election season, according to two senior Republicans.
Meanwhile, a blame game is underway. Many Republican lawmakers and strategists are frustrated with the NRCC over its failure to raise more money, they said in interviews. The committee has reserved $46 million on the TV airwaves, compared to $64 million by their Democratic counterpart. A committee spokesman said the NRCC has eclipsed its fundraising record by $20 million this election cycle.
Critics also contend that the House GOP campaign arm has miscalculated by continuing to spend on behalf of Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Northern Virginia Republican who faces an uphill path to reelection. The committee has reserved nearly $5 million in the pricey Washington, D.C. media market — resources, some argue, that could be used to buttress other lawmakers with more realistic odds of winning.
NRCC officials insist Comstock can still pull through. This week, in a show of solidarity with the congresswoman, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) held a fundraiser for the congresswoman that brought in more than $300,000. The event drew an array of major GOP figures, including Clinton-era prosecutor Ken Starr.
Other senior party officials, however, say fault lies with Congressional Leadership Fund. They argue that the group erred by spending millions of dollars on TV ads well before the fall campaign season kicked into gear, when voters weren’t as tuned in.
People close to the super PAC, however, insist the commercials were critical in helping to define Democratic candidates, many of whom are seeking office for the first time.
“When you’re dealing with challengers, they’re generally unknown until late in the election cycle. Being able to define the race early is important when you’re dealing with a challenging election climate,” said former Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-N.J.), a lobbyist who attended the group’s Thursday morning breakfast. “You’re going to be less at the mercy of the environment when time is running out.”
Critics also say the super PAC has spent too much on its own national field program, which has traditionally been handled by the RNC. The investment has detracted from the amount it spends on TV commercials, they say.
But people involved with the group say the total spent on field deployment has been relatively small and that it’s made a difference in key races. They also argue that CLF has raised $100 million more this election cycle than in 2016, allowing it to spend more on get-out-the-vote.
Still, the cash disparity with Democrats is forcing Republicans to do triage. Party officials the past several weeks have begun diverting cash from races no longer seen as winnable, rankling some lawmakers who feel they’ve been abandoned.
Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) was angered after learning that the NRCC had canceled planned TV ads in his district, though he’s since been in frequent contact with Stivers. After Congressional Leadership Fund pulled out of Republican Rep. Michigan Rep. Mike Bishop’s Michigan district, his campaign immediately released a polling memo arguing that he still had a path to reelection.
Democrats are using their financial advantage to expand their target list and put Republicans on defense in areas long thought safe for the party. In recent days, Democrats have begun advertising against Republican incumbents in conservative-leaning districts in Pennsylvania and Arkansas.
Republicans are taking notice. The Democratic cash tsunami was among the topics discussed at a fundraising lunch held last week at the New York City offices of GOP mega-donor Paul Singer. The event drew an array of big givers and several of the party’s most vulnerable members, including New York Rep. John Faso and Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam.
“As the Democrats’ financial position continues to improve, the greater their opportunities become,” said Ken Spain, a former NRCC official. “Not only will they be able pump more money into winnable races, they can also expand the map by investing in races that were once on the periphery.”
Elena Schneider contributed to this report.