Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel rallied major donors Wednesday to get behind the GOP’s efforts to flip the Senate — a plea that comes amid rising concerns in the party over its candidates’ lagging fundraising totals and its overall prospects.
During a 36-minute conference call, a recording of which was obtained by POLITICO, McDaniel argued that the party has strong Senate candidates and a favorable political environment. But she went on to say that Republican candidates are being swamped by Democrats in the chase for campaign cash. The Supreme Court’s June decision nixing Roe v. Wade, McDaniel said, triggered a gusher of online donations for the opposition.
McDaniel – who was joined by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the architect of the party’s House takeover in the 1994 midterm election – also said Republican small donors had been “decimated” by the lagging economy. That’s made the GOP more dependent on large contributors, such as those on the call, to compete against Democrats on the air in the final weeks before the election, she said.
“We absolutely have better candidates and a better message,” McDaniel said, pushing back on what she described as a false, media-driven narrative that the GOP’s prospects in Senate races are waning. “But,” she said, “we do need financial firepower to drive our effort.”
“Newt and I were just talking, in this environment, our candidates can win if they’re outspent two-to-one, but if it gets four, five, six to one, it becomes more difficult, and we’re seeing that specifically on the Senate side. So my call to action today,” McDaniel added, “is to please help us invest in these Senate races specifically. Give to any of these Senate candidates, all of these Senate candidates if you can, so all of them can be on TV.”
Republican officials say the RNC hosts such calls every few months to provide updates to major givers. The call comes as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republicans are mobilizing to close the financial gap. McConnell has spent August working the phones to raise money from major donors, according to a person familiar with the conversation.
Some senior Republicans have privately grown bearish on the party’s hopes of winning the majority, particularly in light of its growing fundraising woes. An array of candidates in key races — from Arizona’s Blake Masters to Ohio’s J.D. Vance to Pennsylvania’s Mehmet Oz — have found themselves badly outraised by their Democratic opponents. (At one point in the call, an Arizona donor noted that Masters’ rival, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, is flooding the airwaves and made an appeal for other participants to help Masters.)
Adding to the concern is the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s recent decision to slash more than $10 million in planned TV ad spending. The Senate GOP campaign arm trails its Democratic counterpart in cash on hand by roughly $31 million, according to the most recent filings.
That move has forced the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC closely aligned with McConnell, to fill the void with large investments in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. During the call, McDaniel said the RNC was creating a joint-fundraising account with 10 state parties to help fund voter turnout programs.
The fundraising struggles have fueled broader worries about the strength of the party’s candidates. McConnell last week appeared to lower expectations for a Senate takeover, saying “there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate.”
“Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” said McConnell, adding that after the election “we’re likely to have an extremely close Senate, either our side up slightly or their side up slightly.”
During Wednesday’s call, one donor asked Gingrich to respond to McConnell’s remark, prompting the former House speaker to say he “suspects” the GOP leader “regrets having said that,” and that it wasn’t “useful.”
But Gingrich also lavished praise on McConnell, saying the Senate GOP leader is working aggressively to help Republican candidates compete financially. Gingrich also noted that McConnell had been “burned” in past election years, when the party fielded candidates “who were, to put it mildly, strange.”
“Mitch has always been more cautious, and I’ve always been very optimistic, so you can maybe draw the line in the middle,” said Gingrich, who said he also believes the party’s candidates are strong.
During a question-and-answer session, Republican mega-donor Steve Wynn asked whether there are any dark-money nonprofits that contributors could give to. Unlike political action committees, those groups aren’t required to disclose their donors.
Some donors, Wynn said, “are self-conscious for reasons that are personal to them, business people and folks like that” and would rather give anonymously.
The billionaire also offered up some messaging advice. Republican candidates, he said, should run aggressive TV ads casting Democrats as advocates of tax policies that would hurt lower-wage earners and small businesses.
“Hard-hitting kind of spots with a man’s voice, no soft pedel,” Wynn suggested, before giving a sample script: “‘They’re coming after you if you’re a waiter, if you’re a bartender, if you’re anybody with a cash business … they’re coming after you.”
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