Rick Scott doesn’t regret his Senate Republican Campaign arm’s inept approach to the primaries this year — an action that anointed a motley group of nominees and cost the GOP dearly.
Steven Law has a different perspective when he looks at the strategy of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for this year.
“It seemed that the committee’s posture was that all candidates were equally great,” Law said. He now heads the Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund superPAC. “And I don’t believe that’s objectively true.”
Arizona Democrat Senator Mark Kelly is on the verge of defeating Blake Masters. This means that Republicans could now enter a crucial Georgia run-off to take the last of their Senate hopes. Although the GOP could still win the majority, if it knocks out Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D.Nev.), the GOP missed an opportunity to capture the Senate in November despite obvious political benefits.
This is the story about a bigger, more existential struggle within GOP. Interviews with over 20 senators and strategists from both parties reveal the root causes of Republicans’ failures this year. The party believed that Trump was the kingmaker and could do little to change it other than ride the historical tailwinds.
Senate Republicans’ indifference to further damaging their fraught relationship with the former president left them with losing candidates from Arizona, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania as well as governors who chose not to run. The chip on Scott’s shoulders from his 2010 gubernatorial prima — in which he overthrew an established favorite — shaped the NRSC’s approach to this cycle for the better or worse.
The Florida senator views primary intervention as a simple matter of opinion.
Many Republicans felt trapped in a repeat of 2012 and 2010, when the Senate lost its chances because poor GOP nominees had wasted winnable races. McConnell made a public warning in August that candidate quality is important, especially in Senate races — clearly shaming the party’s recruitment. Later, the chair of the NRSC admitted that they were in a “strategic dispute.”
It continued to fester right up until Election Day.
Democrats faced their own problems with an unpopular president, rampant inflation, and other issues. Many of their incumbents served in defense in battleground state. They also took advantage of the shock to their base that was delivered by the Supreme Court’s reversed Roe. They raised huge amounts of money, invested heavily in field operations, and separated themselves from President Joe Biden.
Without the help of the GOP, they could not have outperformed historical records.
Christie Roberts, executive director of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, stated that “they completely fucked recruitment.” “We didn’t have any business being in this situation.
The GOP’s failures in recruitment ended up influencing the general election campaign. Republicans were forced to focus their efforts on Trump’s money woes. Law’s super PAC spent $240million, which is more than 10 times the amount Trump spent in the general election.
However, a super-rich super PAC cannot solve all problems.
Trump finished the Senate primary season with an almost perfect endorsement record. The only exceptions were a misplaced nod in Alabama, and vague support from two candidates called “Eric” (Missouri). After winning the primaries, Trump’s preferred candidates had to deal with new challenges: bruised favorability and reluctant donors, as well as Democratic incumbents who were running general election campaigns for 18-months.
The Republicans’ jaws dropped when they saw the mid-year fundraising figures. The most competitive Senate races saw Democrats have nearly $80 million in hand, while Republicans had less than $20million. Law stated that it was “the wake up moment for us.”
At least in Nevada, Republicans have their man. Adam Laxalt won the support of the former president early on. McConnell’s inner circle was supportive and closely advised him.
Laxalt avoided the intraparty personality battles that have weighed down many of the other soon-to be GOP nominees this year.
John Ashbrook, a McConnell adviser who worked on Laxalt’s campaign, said that “He was the only candidate across the country who had that kind of unifying start to his race for Senate.” It is too close to call.
Many Republicans needed a bailout. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania (J.D. Vance in Ohio, Masters in Arizona were all first time candidates who were hurt by the tough GOP primaries. Cheri Beasley was a strong North Carolina Democratic candidate. The Law-led super-PAC spent $37 million to propel Rep. Ted Budd (R–N.C.) into victory.
Everyone was surprised to see a redder state. After Sen. Rob Portman (R.Ohio), announced his retirement, Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan fulfilled past flirtations with statewide bids – and, even worse, his message resonated. Law donated more than $32million to Ryan’s race against Vance, believing that Ryan was a “pretty outstanding” candidate.
McConnell’s determination to hold every GOP seat meant that he was aiming for a slim majority and focusing on a narrow field. This approach was controversial.
Early GOP squabbling starts
McConnell’s super PAC provided Republican candidates a fighting chance, as they struggled for significant campaign cash. McConnell’s GOP allies accepted many pro-Trump Senate candidate early on, but it was hard against others: Law’s outside group helped to tank the former Missouri governor. Eric Greitens’ Senate bid was spent against McConnell foe Rep. Mo Brooks, in Alabama’s GOP Senate Primary. This helped McConnell ally Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska).
In New Hampshire, the Senate Republican super PAC made a late-season play to stop Donald Bolduc. They boosted a moderate opponent and then later upset conservatives by abandoning Masters and him in the general election.
Law chose to defend Republican-held seats rather than pursue aspirational pick ups by cutting general election spending in states theoretically winnable. The results were mixed.
Law received bad news at the super PAC’s regular polling meeting on October 20. Oz lost a point after battling his way back from a double-digit deficit that lasted for months and almost closing the gap to John Fetterman, his Democratic rival. To help Fetterman, who was at his most vulnerable stage of the cycle, Democratic outside groups were bringing in millions more money, while Republican donors panicked.
The mood was serious around a conference table at the meeting at 3 p.m. The group was surrounded by Law’s portrait of McConnell, who grinned at them, and a retired Sen. Pat Toomey (R.Pa.) on the wall.
Pennsylvania is all about the marbles, Law thought to himself. Someone has to give .
New Hampshire was that something. Bolduc, the GOP nominee, refused to accept McConnell’s opposition as majority leader. Law felt that New Hampshire was too difficult for Republicans to flip and Oz’s candidacy was safer.
Law stated in an interview that it was suddenly clear that Pennsylvania would win the majority if they win this race.
This was not how the other Republicans saw it.
Scott cited his NRSC’s recent ad buy from New Hampshire and said that the campaign arm “clearly disagreed with” the super PAC. Some corners of the party felt the same way about super PAC’s decision not to withdraw cash from Arizona.
Heritage Action has been a major player on the Hill and wanted to make an even bigger impact with its launch of the Sentinel Action Fund. It held a fundraiser in April on Amelia Island, Fla., as Jessica Anderson, Heritage Action Executive Director, hoped to secure conservative outside support. Traditional allies, such as the Chamber of Commerce, took a step back from their long-standing roles as key funders of GOP candidates.
The McConnell-linked super PAC then announced that it would cancel its fall reservations for Arizona in August. Anderson was informed of the plans by Law two days before. Law informed Anderson by phone that Masters was “a bridge too far” but didn’t elaborate. Later, he explained that he didn’t recall using the phrase but considered the state a long shot.
Sentinel spent eventually $8 million, as the race became more competitive. Nearly $2 million was also spent in New Hampshire.
Nine weeks before the race, we can’t pull out. Anderson stated in an interview that they couldn’t. It’s crazy to me.
The numbers support the brutal approach. Masters was 6 points down and trailed all other statewide Republicans on Friday. Bolduc lost by almost 10 points.
How Democrats made it big
The Democratic Senate campaign arm almost mirrored the GOP super PAC’s late focus on battlegrounds states, as it turned out. It began on this path, prioritizing the protection of incumbents in four swing state and aiming for a pick up in Pennsylvania.
Biden won Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2020. However, the DSCC focuses on Pennsylvania. The DSCC concluded that the Badger State would prove more difficult in a midterm year, while Republican incumbent Ron Johnson was well-tested. The campaign arm chair, Sen. Gary Peters (D.Mich.), said that he opposed spending money on primaries in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin where Lt. Governors are. Fetterman and Mandela Barnes won the day.
Peters stated in an interview that “we had to marshal all our resources first and foremost for incumbents.”
Midterms are always stacked against the party in office, so Democrats had no choice but to challenge rising prices and run ahead of Biden’s low approval ratings. It wasn’t always easy. Top Senate Democrats recalled secretly grumbling when the White House presented positive statistics about inflation.
Their Senate candidates raised record-breaking amounts, which was a bright spot. This allowed the DSCC spend more money on voter and field programs than TV ads, for the first time ever in modern history.
Roberts, DSCC executive director, said that the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Roe was a “huge” motivator to a base that “was asleep” up until then. The Democratic Party received one final ray of sunshine this year: an end to infighting.
The new legislation on gun safety and microchip manufacturing was passed by the Congress Democrats in a quick succession. They also reached a party-line agreement on taxes, climate change, and health care.
Republicans believed that the tax increases and increased IRS enforcement to pay for the bill would make Democrats less able to work, but the majority party saw something tangible to celebrate.
J.B. Poersch is president of the Chuck Schumer-aligned Senate Majority PAC. “I knew it was going to allow our candidates, but especially our incumbents to point out specific accomplishments,” he said. “Being able say, “Here’s something we actually getting done,” is more powerful.
Georgia in their thoughts
The 2022 midterms will finish where the previous cycle ended, with a December runoff that could decide control of the chamber.
After Democrats won two Senate seats in the state that was once solidly Republican and took the Senate two year ago, the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm immediately conducted a postmortem. Why had they fallen?
Scott stated, “The donors were quite furious.” “I explained to everyone how we would do it differently.”
The NRSC gathered as many GOP members as possible to meet last summer and reached a single conclusion regarding how Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won in 2020. They didn’t spend early enough while Democrats gained valuable early credibility that proved almost untouchable.
Republicans attempted to make Warnock a Biden lackingey this year rather than the “radical attacks” they had previously tried. They ended up having a larger problem: Walker was well-known in Georgia for his football exploits. But voters were only learning about his personal baggage.
He allegedly threatened his ex wife and had secret children. Two women claimed that he paid for an abortiful – even though he publicly opposed abortion rights. Republicans supported Trump’s nominee, reasoning that Walker could win with similar problems if the former president won in 2016.
One Republican senator stated, “I believe that more people have become desensitized” to the information.
Walker’s problems became evident when the ballots were cast in Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp won the Senate nomination by 5 points. Walker was unable to force Warnock into an election. Democrats are optimistic that their nominee will win again in December.
Peters stated, “There is no doubt” that Raphael Warnock was a superior candidate.
Holly Otterbein contributed this report.