Feb 23, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP to donors: Top-of-ticket quality matters

Kevin McCarthy

Photo: Rebecca Noble/AFP via Getty Images

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is privately telling big-dollar donors that bad candidates for governor and Senate were a top reason the GOP didn't win more House seats in 2022, emphasizing that quality candidates matter up and down the ticket.

Why it matters: By explaining why his party underperformed in the last election, McCarthy and the National Republican Congressional Committee are also setting expectations for the next one.

  • With the right candidates up and down the ticket and plenty of cash in their accounts, McCarthy and his team are trying to convince the donors how they can keep the majority — how they can expand it.
  • The emerging GOP plan is to go on offense in order to avoid playing too much defense.

Driving the news: McCarthy and Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), the new NRCC chairman, gave their theory of the case in slick slide presentations to top donors and lobbyists at a retreat at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Florida, last weekend.

  • Hudson explored the "myths vs. facts" of the 2022 election, according to slides shared with Axios by an attendee.
  • One slide bluntly explained why the "top of the ticket mattered," pointing out that three Republican House candidates in Pennsylvania outperformed far-right gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano by six to 20 points. But all three House nominees still lost their races.
  • In Michigan, the drag from Republican Tudor Dixon in the governor's race meant that the GOP won only one out of three close House contests.
  • McCarthy told donors that bad candidates in governor and Senate races cost his party some eight seats, according to people in the room.

Between the lines: McCarthy also noted that House Republicans have added seats in the last two cycles, in sharp contrast to Senate Republicans.

  • In a world in which donors have a finite amount of resources to spend, McCarthy's message was clear: Betting on the House GOP is a better return on investment.

The intrigue: Hudson told the donors that "hard dollars" — meaning direct contributions to campaigns, rather than "soft money" spent by outside super PACs or independent expenditures — are crucially important for winning tight races, according to Punchbowl News.

  • The implication was clear: individual campaigns need more cash to go up against well-funded Democrats.

The big picture: As both parties sift through the raw data of the 2022 election, they are gaining a clearer picture of who came out to vote and how partisans and various demographics behaved.

  • The emerging consensus on the Republican side is that they "lost the middle," according to one slide from the presentation, as independents largely broke for Democrats.
  • At the same time, Republicans are touting their ability to juice their base, with 2022 seeing 7% more GOP voters than in 2018, according to their analysis.
  • House Republicans won the overall popular vote by more than 3 million.

What to watch: The NRCC also listed the 36 lawmakers — 19 Republicans and 17 Democrats — who won by less than a five-point margin as top targets for 2024.

  • The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter only rates 20 races as true toss-ups — 11 seats held by Democrats, 9 held by Republicans. (A 10th Republican seat held by scandal-plagued Rep. George Santos of New York is rated as lean Democratic.)
  • That's an indication that the universe of contested seats in 2024 will be small, as both parties respond to redistricting and powerful national trends.
  • Both sides are preparing for trench warfare.

The bottom line: House Republicans are trying to convince donors that their money was well spent in the last cycle — and why they should invest in McCarthy's plans to grow the majority in 2024.

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