Politics & Policy

Going the GOP’s Way

Republicans mustn’t sit on their laurels. But if they stay focused, they look to make big gains this fall.

Republicans. Conservatives. Tea-partiers. Mama grizzlies. Beckians. Rovians. College students who voted for Obama after some hipsters offered them free tickets to an Arcade Fire concert. Whoever you are, and whatever label you prefer, if at the end of the day you would rather see more Rs and fewer Ds on the roll sheet for the 112th Congress, there is no shortage of reasons to be optimistic. Looking back on the recently concluded primary season, here are three important indicators of the momentum Republicans enjoy heading into November.

Voter Turnout

More people voted in Republican primaries this cycle than in Democratic primaries. This is the first time that has happened since the Great Depression, according to a report by the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University. Overall, 17.2 million Republicans voted in primaries this year, compared with 13 million Democrats. Nine states saw record highs for GOP primary turnout, while eleven states saw record lows for Democrats. Six states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, and Oklahoma — saw both.

Isaac Wood, House-race editor for Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter, suggests two reasons for this turnout disparity: (1) a greater number of competitive primaries on the Republican side and (2) the significant enthusiasm gap, reflected in the most recent Gallup survey, which shows the GOP with a generic-ballot advantage against Democrats of 48 percent to 43 percent. Even more telling is what might be called the “resignation gap,” indicated by a new Politico/George Washington University poll finding that voters believe, by a 9-point margin, that Republicans will capture both the House and the Senate. Sentiment like this could keep a lot of Democrats home in November. “Republicans can’t wait to cast their votes, and Democrats can’t quite see the point,” Wood says.

Candidate Recruitment

The GOP recruited a record 430 congressional candidates this year, outrecruiting Democrats for only the seventh time since 1920. To put that number in perspective, Democrats recruited 421 candidates in 2006, a big wave year for the party. As it stands, 2010 is set to be an even better year for Republicans. A new Associated Press/GfK poll found that 46 percent of Americans want Republicans in charge of Congress, compared to 41 percent who said they want Democrats in charge. In this kind of atmosphere, the Republican party has become the Miami Heat of politics, with candidates signing up to run in droves. The result was some very crowded fields in GOP primaries across the country. “Excitement on your side makes it much easier to recruit candidates, a little bit too easy sometimes,” Wood says. Even Nancy Pelosi has a challenger this year, Republican John Dennis. He set a GOP record when a March poll found that 22 percent of voters planned to vote for him. If only more Republicans could make campaign ads like this one.

The GOP’s recruiting success has turned out to be an effective counter to the Democrats’ fundraising advantage, which currently sits at about $14 million. By running quality candidates in what have been safe Democratic districts, the GOP has forced incumbent Democrats to defend themselves more rigorously than they are used to doing. This has, according a House GOP aide, created a class of frightened Democrats who, faced with a legitimate Republican challenger, are forced to devote more time, effort, and money to their own campaigns, and less to helping their fellow party members. “They get nervous and they have to go home and campaign and mobilize their volunteers and spend money,” the aide said. “When they’re doing that, they’re not giving money to the national party or helping other congressmen.”

Fundraising/Third-Party Spending

The National Republican Congressional Committee has been steadily closing the gap against its Democratic counterpart. The NRCC now has $22 million in cash on hand, compared to $36 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But momentum is clearly in the GOP’s favor. July marked the fourth month in a row that the NRCC outraised the DCCC. Overall, the NRCC has raised $48 million in 2010, compared to $44 million raised by the DCCC.

Democrats jumped out to an early lead in 2009, raising $56 million, nearly double the $33 million that the Republicans raised. But then they sat on their money. Big mistake. Now, as the political winds shift increasingly in the GOP’s favor, Democrats are being left with fewer competitive races to spend their money on. Last month, DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen indicated that he would cut funding to candidates deemed to be lost causes, the ranks of whom seem to be growing every day. Republicans are reaping the benefits. “They reserved their time to try to scare us, but they reserved it for October,” a GOP strategist said. “The climate gets worse every day for them. So every day it goes on, it’s better for us.”

Third-party spending is already tilting heavily in the Republicans’ favor. Last month, Republican-leaning groups outspent their Democratic counterparts on television ads by $10.9 million to $1.3 million in Senate races, and $3.1 million to $1.5 million in House races, according to a study by the Campaign Media Analysis Group. Wood says a lot of money stayed on the sidelines during the primaries this year, with many big donors holding off on heavy investments in the races. This is especially true on the Republican side. With primary season at an end, expect to see that money start pouring into the GOP’s campaign coffers. “The Democratic fundraising advantage should narrow if not be erased entirely in the next few months,” Wood says. Because, let’s face it, everyone likes to back a winner.

– Andrew Stiles writes for Battle ’10, NRO’s election blog. 

Andrew StilesAndrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...


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