This is something you rarely see in congressional elections: a national party abandoning its own incumbents with just weeks to go before the election takes place.
But that is exactly what the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) is doing to Republican candidates — including incumbents — right now. They are pulling the plug on spending for these candidates who are so far behind in the polls that they have decided they have no chance to win.
For example, last week the House GOP’s campaign arm cancelled its remaining ad buys in the Pittsburgh media market, effectively dooming incumbent GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Pa.). Rothfus is in a losing battle, trying to hang on to his seat in a race against Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) who won a hotly contested special election last spring.
According to The Hill, “Rothfus has been seen as a dead man walking since redistricting left him with a Democratic-leaning district and a difficult opponent in Lamb.”
What happened to Rothfus may now start happening to many more GOP candidates who are struggling in what could be a Blue Wave year for House Democrats.
The NRCC as well as the Republican National Committee are targeting their electoral funds in the races most likely to save its majority. They do not have any extra money they can waste on districts that they do not view as competitive, with less than 6 weeks to go before the election.
Republicans are defending dozens of seats that are seen as vulnerable, but Democrats need just 23 to take control of the House.
On prominent Republican had this to say:
“It’s a giant chessboard. There’s obviously limited resources, and you need to make tough decisions. This is sort of an art form as opposed to a science.”
The NRCC must decide if it wants to spend more of its limited money in close races that are in Democratic-leaning districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. The other choice is to spend more money protecting Republican incumbents in districts that they thought were safe but now will be in play if the Blue Wave election does happen.
This means the NRCC may have to abandon more of its incumbent GOP House members, and that will not sit well with many party members.
One former NRCC staff member said:
“There could be a bunch more incumbents who the party gives up on. It all depends on the polling. People evaluate these things on an hourly, daily basis. These decisions aren’t made lightly. If you have a race that’s just not winnable and you have limited resources, you can’t spend just to make somebody feel better.”
Besides Rothfus, the following GOP incumbents are in races which the polls show to be heavily tilted in Democrats’ favor: Barbara Comstock (Va.), Erik Paulsen (Minn.), Jason Lewis (Minn.) and Rod Blum (Iowa).
According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, an elections forecaster, all of these current Republican House members are likely to lose. They, of course, are not giving up and are still fighting hard. This makes it even more difficult to accept when their own party gives up on them.
Any time you cut bait, especially on a member of Congress, it’s a hard decision — but one that has to be made,” said the former RNCC staffer. “It’s always a stab in the back whenever that happens to a campaign.”
Desperate times require desperate measures, and this is exactly what the Republican Party is facing during this difficult midterm election season.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.