In Unusual Move, Republican Party Begins to Pull Money From Incumbent Races

It’s less than a month until the midterm elections and major Republican campaign funders are performing financial triage on certain congressional races.

Two major sources of conservative support, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), have started to pull advertising funding for Republican candidates who seem to have a slim chance of winning their competitive races.

“This is crunch time, obviously,” said Dr. Steven Billet, a professor at American University who specializes in campaign finance. “If it looks like someone is not going to pull through, they basically throw in the towel and start pulling money and use it in other races where it may be more likely to produce a winner.”

Democrats are currently forecasted to take the majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans are expected to maintain control of the Senate, according to recent polling from FiveThirtyEight.

While this is a normal practice as election day nears, it signals that Republican groups are scrambling to move funds to districts where their dollars will count more — even though many of the abandoned campaigns are in Republican-leaning districts.

“It’s highly unusual for the party to pull money from an incumbent,” Billet said. “Incumbents generally have a better advantage in subsequent elections, but this is one where they may not. That makes it doubly unusual for them to be pulling money from these races.”

Meanwhile, Democratic funding has yet to abandon any races in Democrat-leaning districts. Democratic candidates have been polling well and raising lots of money, Billet said.

CLF, a super PAC backed by major Republican donors, is spending far more this election cycle than the NRCC. CLF is relatively new to conservative political funding. When it formed in 2012, it only spent money on a handful of races.

So far this cycle, CLF spent $87 million on 51 races, averaging $1.7 million spent per race. Meanwhile, the NRCC spent $47.4 million on 33 races.

This is dramatically different from the groups’ spending just two years ago. The NRCC more than doubled CLF in 2016, doling out $39.7 million to CLF’s $14.3 million.

On the other side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has spent nearly the same amount as the NRCC. So far, DCCC spent $60.4 million on 53 races, which is more than what the committee spent in 2016.

“People are making tough decisions now when resources are extra tight,” Billet said. “They have to do it now to make sure that the money they shift around has an impact. [Republicans] are really concerned, maybe close to desperate to hang on to the majority in the House.”

The NRCC and CLF did not respond to requests to comment.

How do the parties and their funders decide when to jump ship? They not only look at polling numbers, but also demographic groups to understand how they’ll likely perform, Billet said.

Republicans are cutting ties in districts with soon-to-be empty seats. In Arizona’s 2nd District, Lea Marquez Peterson is running to fill the seat formerly held by Rep. Martha McSally, who is running for Sen. Jeff Flake’s Senate spot. The NRCC reportedly cut a string of TV ads for Marquez Peterson on Wednesday.

Seth Grossman is running for the vacant seat in New Jersey’s 2nd District, but he has received no support from the NRCC and CLF. Grossman lost the NRCC’s endorsement after sharing racist social media posts earlier this year.

There are a number of incumbents who sit in Republican-leaning districts in suburban areas. The NRCC and CLF pulled ads for Reps. Kevin Yoder (Kan. 3), Michael Bishop (Mich. 8) and Michael Coffman (Colo. 6), all of whom represent traditionally Republican suburbs.

Since 2016, many suburban Republican voters started supporting Democratic candidates, which is one reason Republican funders are taking away support for these districts, Billet said.

In a Kansas City suburb, Yoder faces Sharice Davids, a Democrat rising star who is an ex-MMA fighter and would be the first lesbian Native American in Congress. While the NRCC canceled a $1.2 million ad buy for Yoder, CLF has reportedly not given up on him.

CLF spent $2.5 million so far on Yoder’s behalf and has another $750,000 worth of ads slated for the final weeks before the election.

In Michigan, CLF canceled a $2.1 million ad buy for Bishop’s re-election. Bishop’s opponent, Elissa Slotkin, continues to receive significant support from major Democratic funders.

Bishop easily won his re-election in 2016, and his Detroit suburb district voted heavily in favor of both Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney four years earlier.

CLF also cancelled ads in Colorado for Coffman, where the super PAC set aside $1 million in advertisements. Coffman is running against Democrat Jason Crow.

Republicans have started to lose hope for Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia’s 10th District, who is considered one of the most vulnerable House Republicans this election cycle. However, the NRCC claimed they still intended to spend millions on her re-election, according to the New York Times.

Rep. Rod Blum, in Iowa’s 1st District, didn’t have much support in the first place for his re-election, and major funders have yet to buy TV ads for the incumbent, according to an analysis by the Des Moines Register.

Blum, also facing an ethics investigation, is being significantly outspent by major Democratic funders as they pour money into Abby Finkenauer’s campaign, the Democratic challenger.

In some of California’s reddest districts, CLF passed over ad buys for threatened incumbents Mimi Walters (Calif. 45) and Dana Rohrabacher (Calif. 48).

The super PAC pledged to spend $12 million on TV ads for Southern California House candidates, including an additional $5 million on ads for Los Angeles broadcast stations. Walters and Rohrabacher will not receive any of that money, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Walters is running against Democrat Katie Porter, and Harley Rouda is the Democratic nominee challenging Rohrabacher.

California’s 49th District seat is open, and Republican candidate Diane Harkey has received little support from the NRCC and CLF. Mike Levin is the Democratic candidate.

Some of the abandoned candidates are running in newly-redrawn Pennsylvania districts, which were reconfigured earlier this year after the state’s Supreme Court determined the district map to be unconstitutional.

Rep. Keith Rothfus is another vulnerable House Republican up for re-election. The NRCC canceled September ad buys for the candidate, but they didn’t cut a series of October ad purchases.

In the newly-redistricted state, Rothfus, who formerly represented Pennsylvania’s 12th District, is running against Democratic incumbent Rep. Conor Lamb, from Pennsylvania’s old 18th District. The two are vying for the new 17th District seat.

Two other Pennsylvania candidates are without support in two newly redrawn districts: Pearl Kim in Pennsylvania’s new 5th District and Greg McCauley in the state’s new 6th District.

In Pennsylvania’s 7th District, The NRCC originally had a $1.5 million ad buy for Marty Nothstein slated for October, but the committee has since pulled the funding. Northstein is facing allegations of sexual misconduct and was placed on unpaid leave from his job as director of a cycling center. Nothstein is running against Democrat Susan Wild.

Last week, he filed a lawsuit against the cycling center and the northeastern Pennsylvania newspaper, The Morning Call, which reported on the sexual misconduct investigation. Northstein has strongly denied the allegations, and he claims they are an orchestrated political hit job between his former workplace and the Call.