The Campaign Spot

Is Something Wrong at the NRCC? Or Just Some Tough Races Lately?

There’s grumbling in Washington about the NRCC:

Both sources, one a Republican lawmaker and one a senior GOP staffer, said National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Pete Sessions took responsibility for the loss and promised to study the results and learn the lessons of the Burns’ defeat.

Both sources said they did not believe there would be an effort to replace Rep. Sessions as chairman of the NRCC, but said it was made clear there is deep dissatisfaction.

The accounts also exposed anew long festering tensions or rivalries among House Minority Leader John Boehner and some of his deputies in the leadership. The two sources, both from the more conservative factions of the House GOP caucus, noted it was the Ohio Republican who tapped Sessions for the NRCC’s top post and said most of the NRCC’s top staff have ties to Boehner.

I spoke to a GOP consultant who said that this sentiment was definitely out there, less “It’s time for Sessions to go!” and more “What’s wrong over there?”

While I think every Republican is frustrated that the NRCC hasn’t managed to pick off any recent special elections, only so much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the NRCC or Sessions. Overall, the NRCC seems to be running pretty smoothly; no fundraisers spending money at bondage-themed clubs or nodding as a CNN host comparing the party to Nazis here.

They’ve got the wind at their back, but recruitment has generally gone quite well.  Tom Ganley switched from a longshot challenge to Rob Portman in Ohio’s GOP Senate primary to having a serious chance of knocking off Rep. Betty Sutton (D., Ohio). Tim Griffin also forsook a rumored Senate bid to become a top-tier House candidate. While Charles Djou is greatly helped by the two Democrats/one Republican dynamic of the special election, that race isn’t competitive without a good Republican candidate well-liked within that district. There’s a mix of former congressmen, veteran state legislators, retired military officers, small businessmen and philanthropists, a two-time lumberjack speed-climbing world champion, and the Wisconsin Red Cross Hero of the Year who saved a woman from a knife-wielding assailant in 2007. NRCC top guys have told me their approach is consider every district winnable, and then find the candidate whose profile — experience, ideology, geography, ability to fund-raise, media savvy — fits what is needed to win that district. From time to time, they’ve tried to nudge GOP candidates who aren’t their favorites to other races, but for the most part the committee is content to let the primaries play themselves out.

In the New York special elections, losing Republican candidates Jim Tedisco and Dede Scozzafava were selected by the local party committees. Once they were picked, all the NRCC could do was do its best to elect the Republican. You’ve seen the reaction to Charlie Crist’s refusing to return contributions from Republicans who feel betrayed; I can only imagine the legal challenges to the committee if they tried to use money from Republican donors to elect a non-Republican candidate and defeat a Republican candidate, even if Doug Hoffman was much better than Dede Scozzafava.

The NRCC’s fundraising strikes me as okay for a tough economy. Raising cash is just harder when you’re in the minority.

The one thing I hear from readers is that they find the NRCC ads painfully generic, way too abrasively negative, and generally unsatisfying. But they ran ads against David Obey not too long before his surprising retirement announcement, and they’re getting healthy amounts of “earned media,” that is, the ads are run by local and national news organizations in their coverage of the race, bringing them before a wider audience at no expense.

I suspect if the grassroots have better ideas, the NRCC is all ears.

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