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Republicans fear campaign arm is stumbling in fight for the House

“The media and DCCC are going to try to separate us and turn us against each other because we’re winning,” said Tom Emmer, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman. | Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

The House GOP campaign arm is under fire from Republicans who are growing increasingly anxious about the party’s plan to win back the chamber in 2020.

Republicans still don’t have an answer to Democrats’ online fundraising behemoth ActBlue. GOP leaders are bickering behind closed doors. The head of recruitment has decided to retire. And some rank-and-file lawmakers are starting to express alarm about the party’s strategy as the campaign ramps up.

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So National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer tried to do damage control at a private caucus meeting Wednesday, arguing to GOP lawmakers that the campaign arm was on firm ground and any suggestions of turmoil were being fabricated by Democrats and the press.

“The plan and our strategy is working,” he said, according to multiple sources inside the room. “The media and DCCC are going to try to separate us and turn us against each other because we’re winning.”

The Minnesota Republican dismissed a POLITICO report of a clash over fundraising between him and Rep. Liz Cheney, the no. 3 House Republican. “She’s a friend of mine and I’m not going to let anyone in this town with their little blogging fingers divide us. It’s time to be unified,” he said in the meeting.

Emmer also defended the NRCC’s communications team, which is facing criticism from even GOP lawmakers for its personal attack on a Democrat — calling the 5’6” New York Rep. Max Rose “little” — and undercutting Republican leadership’s support for congressional pay raises with a press release slamming Democrats for backing the salary bump.

“Our communications team has a direct mandate from me and Leader [Kevin] McCarthy to be ruthless,” he said.

But the fact that party leaders felt compelled to address the incidents underscores the broader frustration that is bubbling up inside the GOP conference, according to interviews with more than a dozen members, aides, and GOP consultants working on battleground races across the country.

“It’s a disaster what is going on across the street at NRCC,” said one GOP lawmaker, who was granted anonymity to speak more freely. “Their communication is bad. Some of the stuff is bizarrely overly aggressive. They’re not raising the money. They don’t have buy-in from members. And it’s getting worse.”

One of the chief complaints from GOP lawmakers is that the party has yet to unveil its rival to ActBlue, the online fundraising platform that Democrats have used to rake in massive amounts of small-dollar donations.

The NRCC, in conjunction with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Republican National Committee, and Trump’s political team, announced back in January they would launch their own small-donor fundraising vehicle dubbed the “Patriot Pass,” which has since been renamed “Win Red.”

GOP sources said an announcement is coming “very, very soon.” But many Republicans expected it to already be up and running.

“I would have hoped it would be launched by now. Because I do believe sooner is better than later,” said GOP Rep. Tom Reed of New York. “It’s a real concern by a lot of members… This needs to get done.”

But nearly six months into the new election cycle, members have still not been briefed on the details of the operation or when it will be functional. Lawmakers also don’t know which incumbents or first-time candidates will have access to it, according to multiple GOP consultants. And several GOP fundraising firms have no plans to integrate with the Win Red database.

“I didn’t realize it wasn’t up and running yet,” Rep. Pete King (R-NY.), a Democratic target, said when asked about Win Red.

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And while the NRCC isn’t the only GOP outfit to blame for the delay, House lawmakers say they are feeling more pressure to compete with Democrats in the small donor space.

“I don’t know [when it’s coming], but I hope soon. I hope real soon,” said Texas Republican Brian Babin. “It was a huge disadvantage to us last time. And so, a whole lot of us thought, if there’s an ActBlue, there needs to be an ActRed.”

One of the hiccups, according to multiple sources, is the name had to be changed because New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft — a top ally to President Donald Trump — complained it sounded too similar to his NFL team.

“We need to counteract this and we don’t see something yet,” added Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.). “It’s just so obvious, the other side’s got a juggernaut.”

The NRCC defended its fundraising operation in a statement to POLITICO. Spokesman Chris Pack said that online fundraising is up 250 percent compared to 2017. And in the five months of 2019, the NRCC outraised the entire 2017 fiscal year and broke every monthly record thus far, he said.

“We offer email list exchanges to every single member running for re-election which has helped participating members achieve similar growth in their online fundraising that the committee has achieved,” Pack said.

“Win Red is a collaborative effort of multiple organizations,” Pack added. “It’s unrealistic to think this massive undertaking would happen overnight.”

Rep. Brian Babin

“… If there’s an ActBlue, there needs to be an ActRed,” said Rep. Brian Babin.
| Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

Allies of GOP leadership also pointed out that rank-and-file members venting about the NRCC is hardly new — and it’s only natural that those complaints are amplified now that Republicans have been relegated to the minority.

But those frustrations have now reached the upper levels of GOP leadership. At a private meeting earlier this month, Emmer questioned whether some leaders were pulling their weight in party dues and fundraising numbers, according to multiple sources. At one point, Emmer asked Cheney (R-Wyo.) if he could count on her to keep contributing cash to the campaign arm as she contemplates a Senate bid.

Cheney fired back that she has been meeting her fundraising benchmarks and paying her dues. Cheney also told Emmer that she’s heard from members who are concerned with the general direction of the NRCC, while some lawmakers are worried Emmer is artificially inflating his own fundraising numbers, according to multiple sources.

Adding to the internal drama, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), head of NRCC recruitment and one of just 13 female lawmakers in the House GOP, stunned party leaders when she announced last week that she would retire at the end of her term in 2020. The surprise departure reignited questions about the party’s efforts to attract and elect more female candidates when Trump will be at the top of the ticket.

While the NRCC said Brooks would stay on as recruitment chair through the cycle, Democrats seized on the news to highlight the lack of women in the GOP conference.

“Losing Congresswoman Brooks, who was working hard to recruit women to run for office, underscores the problem Washington Republicans have created for themselves,” said DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.).

Meanwhile, multiple GOP members told POLITICO they don’t like some of the NRCC’s tactics when attacking their Democratic colleagues — a rare occurrence in polarized Washington.

“Little Max Rose is content passing socialist bills,” the NRCC said in a press release earlier this month that mocked the vulnerable freshman’s height and sparked concern in the GOP.

McCarthy, the House minority leader, expressed confidence in Emmer.

“Tom and his team are doing what it takes to win,” the California Republican said in a statement. “They’re on offense and not letting Democrats get away with promising their voters action but coming to Washington and conforming to the new Democrat Socialist agenda.”

But some in the rank-and-file were not amused.

“I was bothered by that attack on Max Rose,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). “The president’s got his own unique style. I don’t think we need to mimic it. I was really disappointed by that and I hope we do better.”

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