In a highly unusual move, the Republican National Senate Committee this week canceled reservations worth about $10 million, including in the critical states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. A spokesperson said the NRSC was not giving up these races, but was prioritizing advertising spots shared with campaigns and benefiting from discounted rates. Still, cancellations negate the cheaper prices resulting from booking early, and better budgeting could have covered both.
“The fact that they canceled those reservations was a huge deal – you can’t get them back,” said a Senate Republican strategist, who like others speaks on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. “You can’t win elections if you don’t have money to run ads.”
The NRSC’s retreat came after months of record fundraising, topping $173 million so far this election cycle, according to disclosures from the Federal Election Commission. But the committee nearly burned it all, with NRSC cash dwindling to $28.4 million at the end of June.
As of that month, the committee revealed that it spent just $23 million on ads, including more than $21 million on text messages and more than $12 million on American Express credit cards. payments, the ultimate purpose of which is unclear from the filings. The committee also spent at least $13 million on consultants, $9 million on debt repayments and more than $7.9 million on mailing list rentals, according to campaign finance data.
“If this was a corporation, the CEO would be fired and investigated,” said a National Republican consultant working on Senate races. “The way that money was burned, there has to be an audit or an investigation because we’re not going to take the Senate now and that money was wasted. It’s a scam.”
NRSC Chairman Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has already taken heat from fellow Republicans for running ads featuring him on camera and publishing his own political platform that became a Democratic punching bag – leading to jokes that “NRSC” stood for “Rick Scott National Committeein an effort to fuel his own alleged presidential ambitions.
Other spending decisions, such as investing about $1 million in total in Colorado and Washington Reliable Blues earlier this month, have sparked new questions after the committee flipped and reversed plans. purchases on the main battlefields.
The NRSC has invested heavily in expanding its digital fundraising and building its database of small donors. But online donations to Republicans, not just the NRSC, fell earlier this year from what consultants said was a combination of inflation, changes to Facebook’s advertising policies, concerns over email taken in spam filters, and complacency with an anticipated Republican wave. Some Republicans also suspect former President Donald Trump relentless fundraising pitches and cash hoarding 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 July and is due to the FEC on Saturday, will show millions more in ad spend. On Friday, the NRSC said it had booked airtime in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona.
“Our goal was to keep our candidates afloat and get them to that point where they’re still in the game in all of our top states,” NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline said. “So when the big spending starts now, we’ll have a fighting chance.”
That big spending comes from a super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who this week announced a whopping $28 million bailout effort in Ohio, where the candidate Republican JD Vance raised a dismal $1 million in the second quarter and spent less than $400,000 on ads.
The super PAC, known as the Senate Leadership Fund, also increased spending in Pennsylvania by three weeks and added $9.5 million, for a total of $34 million. Recent polls show the Keystone state Senate race drifting toward Democratic Lt. Governor John Fetterman at the expense of Republican nominee, famed physician Mehmet Oz.
McConnell himself acknowledged the challenge of reclaiming the House majority, telling Kentucky reporters on Thursday that the House was more likely to tumble. “The quality of the candidates has a lot to do with the outcome,” he said, according to NBC Newsa comment that was widely seen as a swipe at some of the major winners and their lagging fundraising performances.
The NRSC has opted against picking favorites in this year’s primary contests, a break from the past decade when the committee struggled to avoid out-of-the-mainstream candidates who cost the party victories in 2010 and 2012. Many Republican candidates this year have heaven I haven’t run for office before and emerged from unpleasant and expensive primaries who left their favorable notes underwater. A series of recent polls have shown Republican candidates on many battlegrounds trailing or tied with well-funded Democratic opponents.
Democrats more than double Republicans in Arizona Senate race; nearly two to one in Nevada and four to one in Ohio, according to media monitoring firm AdImpact. Republicans also spend about $14 million in Georgia.
“Everything fell into place at once, and everyone woke up like, ‘Oh my God,'” a Republican consultant said. “It’s been an absolutely disastrous two weeks for the GOP Senate stuff on all fronts.”
After the Washington Post discussed the story with the NRSC on Friday, five Senate campaigns praised the committee’s help.
“They’re focused on the day-to-day struggle of Democrats,” said Gail Gitcho with Herschel Walker’s campaign in Georgia. “Anyone who says otherwise is crazy.”
Zack Roday with Joe O’Dea’s senatorial campaign in Colorado added, “The NRSC has been a great partner, everything we asked for.
Democrats are pointing to signs of a newly energized base and a national political environment that is, if nothing else, less bad for them. The ruling party typically loses ground mid-term.
JB Poersch, chairman of the Democratic Senate’s leading super PAC, pointed to the January 6 hearings, recent mass shootings, the Cut Inflation Act, and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade as changing the dynamic over the past two months.
“It’s surprising and speaks volumes about the Republican brand that their candidates have struggled to raise funds,” Poersch said. “With extreme candidates and extreme positions, perhaps Republican donors find these candidates are out of step with where they are. Maybe voters feel the same way.
Vance’s disappointing financial report highlighted a new urgency for McConnell-aligned super PAC air support, a person familiar with the planning said. The size of the buy reflects advertising spending across the state of Ohio with its multiple media markets, and the fact that Republicans see the state as both winnable and inescapable. An affiliated nonprofit known as One Nation is spending an additional $3.8 million to help Vance against his Democratic rival, Rep. Tim Ryan.
Several public polls have recently shown Ryan in the lead, and internal Republican surveys have found Vance at an even bigger deficit, according to people familiar with the results.
A Vance campaign adviser dismissed suggestions that the super PAC intervention showed weakness, saying the race was always going to be competitive.
“If the Washington pundits think Trump won the state by 8 then it should be a slam dunk, they are seriously mistaken,” the adviser said, referring to Trump’s margin of victory in Ohio in 2020. “They’re putting money into this race shows they believe it’s a race they can win.
Vance benefited in the primary from about $10 million by an allied super PAC funded by tech billionaire Peter Thiel. But those involved in the race said it was unclear whether Thiel, whose style in the past has been to invest early and then exit, would put money behind Vance in the general election. Thiel also funded the Arizona Senate bid of Republican candidate Blake Masters, his former employee.
A spokesperson for Thiel declined to comment.
The Senate Leadership Fund, which typically increases spending in the home stretch after Labor Day, ended June with more than $100 million in the bank. As of September, the PAC has earmarked $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.