Nov 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Inside the GOP's mad scramble for midterms credit

Illustration of a close up view of a suit and tie with a bunch of gold star stickers animating onto the lapel

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Republican leaders in the House and Senate are already clamoring for credit in anticipation of gaining seats in Tuesday night's midterms, with several eyeing a potential GOP wave as a launch pad for their own political ambitions.

Why it matters: The intraparty jockeying — which has already turned nasty in some cases — will have major implications for GOP leadership roles and potentially even the 2024 presidential nomination.

The flip side: Underwhelming performances in either chamber will have an equally adverse effect, triggering an internal blame game over which of these leaders bear responsibility.

The House

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has taken an extremely hands-on approach to recruitment and fundraising, hitting the trail a total of 172 days this year in part to promote a historically diverse class of GOP candidates.

  • The McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund has eclipsed the National Republican Congressional Committee in spending and outreach — helping give the party a huge cash advantage over Democrats.
  • Punchbowl News reported Monday that McCarthy and his related groups spent an eye-popping $500 million in 2022 on behalf of House GOP candidates.
  • Many Republicans will credit McCarthy for what happens on Tuesday, and he'll use it to solidify his standing as likely House Speaker next year.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), whose role as NRCC chair will also earn him credit for a successful House GOP election year, worked in tandem with McCarthy to expand the map of competitive districts.

  • But McCarthy's outsized influence could pose problems for how much credit Emmer gets as he eyes a promotion to House Republican whip, which Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) — a close ally to McCarthy — is also expected to pursue.
  • According to House GOP lawmakers, aides, and strategists, Emmer isn't seen as the game-changer this cycle. McCarthy and his prospects for becoming Speaker are expected to dominate the headlines should Republicans take the House.
  • McCarthy has not come out in support of Emmer or any whip candidate.

What they're saying: “Kevin McCarthy’s leadership and fundraising prowess has been unrivaled in our efforts to take back the House over the last four years, and that is why he is going to be the next Speaker," Emmer told Axios.

  • "President Trump also deserves a lot of credit for helping us fundraise a record amount and firing up Republican voters. Politics is a team sport, and I’m excited to be a part of the team that is going to fire Nancy Pelosi tomorrow.”

The Senate

With control of the Senate expected to come down to a handful of battleground races, a months-long turf war between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and campaign chief Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is about to reach a fever pitch.

Zoom in: The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) and the Scott-run National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) have both spent massively on behalf of Senate incumbents and candidates this cycle, but with key strategic differences.

  • The NRSC made the bold decision this year to spend over $40 million in the primaries — far earlier than it has in past cycles. That resulted in a cash crunch in the final months before the election, forcing the committee to cancel bookings in key swing states.

Between the lines: McConnell, whose allied groups spent $380 million this cycle, was criticized in August for declaring the Senate would be hard to flip, citing "candidate quality" as a major factor.

  • The comment was seen as a dig at Scott, who is responsible for Republican recruits. Scott has fiercely defended some of the GOP's flawed nominees and is expected to have their support if ultimately elected.
  • Establishment Republicans had been especially wary about the general election prospects of Blake Masters in Arizona and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire.
  • If either candidate wins or loses their race by a small margin (+/- 1-3 points), SLF — and McConnell specifically — will take major heat for the PAC's spending decisions, multiple Republican strategists tell Axios.

Zoom out: Most of the flawed candidates McConnell was likely referring to — including Masters, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia — had the enthusiastic backing of former President Trump.

  • Trump's early endorsements also included J.D. Vance in Ohio, Adam Laxalt in Nevada and Ted Budd in North Carolina.
  • Trump is planning to ride the GOP's expected post-midterm euphoria and use it to his advantage in officially announcing his 2024 presidential run, with signs he was considering doing so as early as Monday night.
  • Look for the former president to take credit for GOP victories across the board — including in races he had nothing to do with.
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