Oct 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Parties starving weak candidates in final midterm crunch

Illustration of a pair of scissors cutting a one hundred dollar bill

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

With 30 days until the midterms, party leaders are making ruthless calculations to cut funding for underachieving candidates in a push to sharpen their top targets. In other cases, party committees and super PACs aren't spending at all on potentially winnable races because of flawed candidates.

Driving the news: The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced Friday it would be cutting back on its advertising against Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) in New Hampshire, opting to focus on other, closer Senate battlegrounds in which Republicans are being outspent.

  • But the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund is still spending big in New Hampshire to support GOP candidate Don Bolduc as part of its $23 million reservation and has no plans to cut back, according to SLF spokesman Jack Pandol.
  • "We're glad to see Republican outside forces showing up in a big way in New Hampshire, with millions in spending pledged to take down Maggie Hassan in the final stretch," said NRSC spokesman Chris Hartline.

Why it matters: We're seeing Democrats cut off funding for some candidates primarily because they don't have enough resources to spend in an expanding battleground map. Republicans, by contrast, are more likely to cut bait on candidates running poor campaigns, not raising money on their own or sounding too extreme for their districts.

  • Rep. Tom O'Halleran (D-Ariz.) told donors last month that the party needs to step up soon to help him win against former President Trump-endorsed Eli Crane. The NRCC has spent over $1.7 million attacking him in the last month — but he's not getting any backup from Democratic allies, according to a source tracking ad spending. O'Halleran's redrawn district backed Trump by 8 points.
  • Nevada Republican Sam Peters, who's running against Rep. Stephen Horsford (D-Nev.), isn't getting any help from Republican allies — even as the state looks like it's swinging in the GOP's direction. Neither the NRCC nor the Kevin McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund are spending money for Peters, a retired Air Force major and pro-Trump activist who they view as too extreme for the Biden +8 district.
  • New Hampshire Republican Bob Burns, who's running against Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), has been left in the cold even as some public polling shows Kuster is vulnerable. Burns, a pro-Trump businessman, defeated a moderate candidate in the Republican primary — thanks in part to outside meddling from a Democratic super PAC.
  • Texas Democrat Michelle Vallejo, a progressive running in a majority-Hispanic Rio Grande Valley district against Republican Monica de la Cruz, isn't getting any DCCC support in her Trump +3 district. House Majority PAC is planning to cancel the scheduled ad reservations for her at the end of the month, according to a source familiar with the group's plans.
  • Wisconsin Democrat Brad Pfaff, running to succeed retiring Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), isn't getting any outside backup in his race against Republican Derrick Van Orden. House Majority PAC reserved time in the district later this month, but a source familiar with the group's plans said it intends to cancel those reservations.

Between the lines: The Democratic disengagement from a Wisconsin district it currently holds is a notable concession that Jan. 6 isn't resonating as an election issue with swing voters.

Two California Democrats, running in House races that the Cook Political Report rates as toss-ups, are also at risk of getting cut off.

  • Outside Democratic groups have not yet spent any money against GOP Reps. Mike Garcia and Michelle Steel, though House Majority PAC still has millions in advertising reserved for the final three weeks of the campaign.
  • By contrast, outside Republican groups have already spent over $1 million in each race hitting their Democratic challengers.

Flashback: Two Trump-aligned Republican candidates were cut off by national party super PACs prior to this final stretch.

  • Last month, Senate Leadership Fund withdrew over $9 million in ad reservations for Arizona GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters, leaving Masters dependent on other outside groups to spend on his behalf. Masters is trailing Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), despite Arizona's status as a top battleground.
  • The NRCC also told Axios last month it won't be spending any more money for Ohio congressional candidate J.R. Majewski, who misrepresented his military service and was at the Capitol on Jan. 6. He's facing Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur in a redrawn district that backed Trump by three points in 2020.
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