GOP spending under fire as Senate hopefuls seek rescue

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Republican Senate hopefuls are being battered by airwaves across the country as their national campaign fund drops ads and runs out of money, leading some campaign advisers to question where all the money went and to demand an audit of the committee’s finances, according to Republican strategists. involved in the discussions.

In a highly unusual move, the National Republican Senatorial Committee canceled about $10 million worth of reservations this week, including in the critical states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. A spokesman said the NRSC is not abandoning these races but is prioritizing ad spots that are shared with campaigns and benefit from reduced rates. Even so, cancellations lose the cheaper prices that originated from early booking, and a better budget could have covered both.

“The fact that they canceled those reservations was a big deal — you can’t get them back,” said one Senate Republican strategist, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. “You can’t win an election if you don’t have money to run ads.”

The NRSC’s withdrawal came after months of touting record fundraising, surpassing $173 million so far this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. But the committee has burned through almost all of it, with NRSC cash dwindling to $28.4 million at the end of June.

As of that month, the committee revealed spending just $23 million on ads, with more than $21 million going to text messages and more than $12 million to American Express credit card payments, the purpose the end of which is not clear in the presentations. The committee also spent at least $13 million on consultants, $9 million on debt payments and more than $7.9 million to rent mailing lists, campaign finance records show.

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“If they were a corporation, the CEO would be fired and investigated,” said a national Republican consultant working on Senate races. “The way this money has been burned, there needs to be an audit or an investigation because now we’re not going to take the Senate and this money has been wasted. It’s a scam.”

NRSC President Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has already taken heat from fellow Republicans for running ads featuring him on camera and published his own political agenda that became a Democratic punching bag, leading to jokes that “NRSC” stood for “Rick Scott National Committee” in an attempt to fuel his own alleged presidential ambitions.

Other spending decisions, including putting about $1 million in total into Colorado and Washington reliably earlier this month, raised new questions after the committee reversed itself and canceled field purchases basic battle

The NRSC invested heavily in expanding its digital fundraising and building its database of small-dollar donors. But online donations to Republicans, not just the NRSC, fell earlier this year in what consultants said was a combination of inflation, changes to Facebook’s ad policies, concerns about emails caught in filters of spam and complacency with an anticipated Republican wave. Some Republicans also suspect former President Donald Trump’s relentless fundraising pitches and cash hoarding have depleted the party’s online donor base.

The NRSC still has tens of millions of dollars in airtime booked, and its next filing, which covers the month of July and is due to the FEC on Saturday, will show millions more in ad spending. The group said its total TV spend so far exceeded $40 million. On Friday, the NRSC said it added more than $4 million in airtime in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona.

“Our goal was to keep our candidates afloat and get to that point where they’re still in play in all of our major states,” said NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline. “So when the big spending starts now we have a fighting chance.”

That big spending comes from a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), which this week announced a $28 million bailout effort in Ohio, where Republican candidate J.D. Vance raised $1 million in the second quarter. and has spent less than $400,000 on ads.

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The super PAC, known as the Senate Leadership Fund, also increased its spending in Pennsylvania for three weeks, adding $9.5 million, for a total of $34 million. Recent polls show the Keystone State Senate race moving toward Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman over the Republican candidate, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz.

McConnell himself acknowledged the challenge of regaining the House majority, telling reporters in Kentucky on Thursday that the House was more likely to change. “The quality of the candidates has a lot to do with the outcome,” he said. according to NBC Newsa comment that has been widely seen as a jab at some of the top winners and their late fundraising.

The NRSC opted not to pick frontrunners in this year’s primary contests, a break from the past decade when the committee worked to avoid out-of-the-ordinary candidates who cost the party victories in 2010 and 2012. Many of the Republican candidates this year they are taking refuge He has not run for office before and emerged from nasty and expensive primaries that left his favorable ratings under water. A number of recent polls showed Republican candidates in many battlegrounds behind or in a dead heat with well-funded Democratic opponents.

Democrats are spending more than twice as much as Republicans in the Arizona Senate race; by nearly two to one in Nevada and four to one in Ohio, according to media tracking firm AdImpact. Republicans are also spending more than $14 million in Georgia.

“Everything came together at once, and everybody woke up like, ‘Oh my God,'” said one Republican consultant. “It’s been an absolutely disastrous two weeks for things in the Senate GOP on all fronts.”

After the Washington Post broke the story with the NRSC on Friday, five Senate campaigns came forward to praise the committee’s help.

“They’re focused on bringing the fight to Democrats every day,” said Gail Gitcho with the Herschel Walker campaign in Georgia. “Anyone who says otherwise is crazy.”

Zack Roday with Joe O’Dea’s Senate campaign in Colorado added, “The NRSC has been a great partner, everything we’ve asked for.”

Democrats point to signs of a newly energized base and a national political environment that is at least less bad for them. The party in power usually loses ground in the middle of the legislature.

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JB Poersch, chairman of the top Democratic Senate super PAC, noted that the Jan. 6 hearings, recent mass shootings, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade changed the dynamics of the last two months.

“It’s surprising and says a lot about the Republican brand that their candidates have struggled to raise money,” Poersch said. “With extreme candidates and extreme positions, maybe Republican donors are finding that those candidates are not up to where they are. Maybe voters feel the same way.”

Vance’s disappointing financial report sparked a new urgency for air support from the McConnell-aligned super PAC, a person familiar with the planning said. The size of the purchase reflects advertising spending across the state of Ohio with its multiple media markets, and that Republicans see the state as winnable and must-win. An affiliated nonprofit known as One Nation is spending an additional $3.8 million to help Vance against his Democratic challenger, Rep. Tim Ryan.

Several public polls recently showed Ryan leading, and internal Republican polls found Vance in an even larger deficit, according to people familiar with the findings.

A Vance campaign adviser dismissed suggestions that the super PAC’s intervention showed weakness, saying the race was always going to be competitive.

“If the pundits in Washington think Trump won the state by 8, so it should be a blowout, they’re dead wrong,” the adviser said, referring to Trump’s margin of victory in Ohio in 2020. “Them putting money into this race shows that. They believe this is a race they can win.”

Vance benefited in the primary by about $10 million from an allied super PAC funded by tech billionaire Peter Thiel. But people involved in the race said it’s unclear whether Thiel, whose style in the past has been to invest early and then pull back, will put money behind Vance in the general election. Thiel also financed the Arizona Senate bid of Republican candidate Blake Masters, his former staffer.

A spokesman for Thiel declined to comment.

The Senate Leadership Fund, which typically ramps up spending in the final stretch after Labor Day, ended June with more than $100 million in the bank. As of September, the PAC has set aside $14.4 million in Arizona, $37.1 million in Georgia, $15.1 million in Nevada, $27.6 million in North Carolina, $15.2 million in Wisconsin and $7.4 million in Alaska.

Michael Scherer contributed to this report.

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