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House GOP chaos might just give Senate GOP a fundraising edge

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A month after the House GOP lost its single-best fundraiser as it careened into chaos, Senate Republicans are amplifying their pitch to donors: We’re your best possible investment.

The House GOP’s campaign arm lagged in fundraising last month, raising just over $5 million. And there could be more difficult times ahead. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate map is rife with pickup opportunities — including in deep red states like Montana and Ohio — and that chamber’s Republicans have not been shy about framing them as a best-chance insurance policy to act as a bulwark against a potentially united Democratic government in 2025.

“We compete for the dollars with every other national committee and we just have to make a better case than everybody else,” said Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), adding that so far they’ve had an “excellent case to make.”

Senate Republicans have to flip only one or two seats to win back the majority, and at least one looks like a near certainty now that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) isn’t running for reelection. In preparation, top party hands have ramped up recruitment efforts and primary intervention strategies to box out potentially risky candidates seeking a spot on the 2024 ticket.

Compared to the Republican presidential primary and the House GOP, Republican senators look like the capable adults in the room, and they know it.

“Lots of uncertainty in the House and lots of uncertainty in the White House,” is how Scott Jennings, a longtime ally to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, summed it up. “But the Senate Republicans have a clear line of success.”

“Donors are going to be smart enough to realize exactly where an investment is gonna make a huge amount of difference,” Jennings added.

There is already some indication that the GOP strategy is working. Senate Leadership Fund and its sister organizations, all of which are allied with McConnell, are on track to surpass the $400 million they raised in the 2022 cycle, according to a person close to the group who was granted anonymity to speak freely. SLF and its nonprofit arm One Nation had a record fundraising haul for a non-election year in the first half of 2023.

Three people with ties to GOP donors, who were also granted anonymity to speak candidly, said that some of the party’s biggest givers are taking increased interest in Senate races as the House is gripped by chaos, and Trump surges in the Republican presidential primary.

“The Senate is where they’re going to focus,” said one of those people. “Now, that all changes tomorrow if Nikki Haley is the nominee, but I don’t think anybody thinks that’s going to be the case.”

A second person, a GOP fundraiser, said that group includes the mega-donor Paul Singer.

Some of that posture is recognition that the odds are against Senate Democrats, who would have to retain every incumbent and win the presidency in 2024 to keep their majority. Meanwhile, the Senate GOP has plenty of other pickup opportunities outside of red states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada.

But winning in those places will still take millions of dollars, especially because there are well-funded Democratic incumbents in most of those states. Although the Senate GOP’s campaign arm has worked diligently to recruit candidates who can self-fund, the party will still need to attract national, big-dollar donors who might typically be more tempted to get involved in a presidential race.

“It’s my first cycle in the presidential cycle,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2022 cycle. “You gotta go convince people that there’s a reason to give you money for what you do every day.”

The House GOP campaign arm saw fundraising slow somewhat in October as conservative rabble-rousers ousted McCarthy, and the chamber spent three weeks without a leader. It raised just over $5 million, roughly half of what it raised during the off-year October in 2019 and 2021.

Republicans’ House majority is only five seats, and they have 18 members who need to get reelected in seats that President Joe Biden won in 2020. House members are fleeing for the exits after gridlock, infighting and outright animosity gripped the chamber during its 10-week legislative marathon this fall.

“If there’s anything that’s going against the House’s ability to raise money, it’s the utter chaos that people have seen play out over the last two months,” said one GOP operative who works on Senate races and was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “The chaos reduces the confidence in their ability to hold on to the majority, and the majority is so tight to begin with.”

In meetings with prospective donors, House GOP operatives stress that their chamber has outperformed expectations in 2020 and picked up seats in both the 2020 and 2022 when Senate Republicans did not. Their message, according to a person familiar with the fundraising strategy, is: Don’t count us out.

And the Congressional Leadership Fund, the top House GOP super PAC, has seen a strong donor response since Speaker Mike Johnson took the top post, raising $16 million in the first 10 days. That group is the largest outside spending in House races and will be determinative in key contests this fall.

“We proved to be a smart investment the last two cycles, and I’m confident we’ll continue to be seen that way in 2024,” said Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund. “We’ve seen a great response from donors as they’ve gotten to know Speaker Johnson, and it’s obvious our fundamentals have not changed.”