All five national Republican Party committees presented a united, optimistic front in evaluating their chances for the fall elections on Wednesday even as tensions between the base and establishment wings of the party remain.
At a joint press conference between the Republican National Committee and the four campaign committees handling races from state legislative and gubernatorial to House and Senate battles, Republicans said President Obama’s persistent unpopularity and the technological and staff advances their committees have made since 2012 have put them in a good position for the midterms.
National Republican Congressional Committee Executive Director Liesl Hickey said House Republicans are aiming to pick up 11 seats and expand their majority to 245 seats, adding that she was “surprised” that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted Democrats would pick up 25 seats this fall in a Tuesday interview.
Her counterpart at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rob Collins, was similarly optimistic, arguing many vulnerable Democrats have few legislative accomplishments to tout and so are stuck running on Obama’s agenda — a losing prospect, he said, as the president remains particularly unpopular in the red states where Republicans are playing offense.
“When the president gets a cold nationally, he gets pneumonia in the states we care about,” said Collins.
Collins revealed GOP polling that has their candidates within single digits or ahead substantially in 10 states — including Arkansas, where NRSC has Republican Rep. Tom CottonTom CottonOvernight Defense: Debate over Mattis heats up | White House releases military force rules Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules GOP senator calls on Obama to halt Guantanamo detainee transfers MORE up six points over Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE, and Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, where they have Republicans up double-digits over their Democratic opponents.
He admitted, however, that Republicans have a money problem. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has heavily outraised the NRSC this cycle. But Collins noted Democrats have been forced to spend on defense in blue-leaning states that months ago seemed off the table for Republicans.
He cautioned that, moving forward, Republicans can’t just run against Obama.
“[We need to offer a] positive agenda that highlights the incompetence of this administration, but also highlgihts an alternative and I think every campaign is in the process of developing those thoughts,” Collins said.
Republicans enter the general election phase largely having successfully nominated the strongest candidate in a number of competitive primaries, a reversal in fortunes from 2012, when weak candidates lost the party winnable races.
But those successes didn’t come without considerable battles with national conservative groups, and Collins indicated some of the wounds from those battles haven’t yet healed.
“The for-profit conservative base here in D.C., we’re never gonna get along with, at least this cycle,” Collins said, after admitting the primary season was “tough.”
He quickly added, “that’s not true, there are some that will have a role to play in the general election.”
“But some of the louder voices, it has not been good for their bottom line to get along with [us], so they choose not to…but where we can work together we will,” Collins said.
One of the groups unlikely to work with the NRSC is the Senate Conservatives Fund, a national conservative group that has lost just about every time it’s gone toe-to-toe with the NRSC. SCF President Ken Cuccinelli said the group had no interest in working with the NRSC because they are just focused on “power.”
“If they ever came around to fight for Republican principles, you bet we could work with them, but they can’t even find them,” he told The Hill in a phone interview, adding SCF’s membership is “disgusted” by this.
He said there’s a “very real risk” the grassroots, frustrated with establishment-backed candidates and incumbents, could stay home this fall. Cuccinelli added that the group has no plans to back down despite its failures this cycle, and warned other senators could face the same fight as Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranGOP senators voice misgivings about short-term spending bill Trump's wrong to pick Bannon or Sessions for anything Bottom Line MORE (R-Miss.), still facing opposition from his primary challenger who has refused to concede despite losing his runoff, has endured.
“There are several ways to change how things work in Washington. One is to change the people,” he said. “And the other is for every other senator in the Republican caucus to not want to to go through what Thad Cochran went through.”