In recent months pollsters have been pointing to softening support for Democrats as a sign that the GOP may make a big comeback in the 2010 elections. But the party's historically poor financial position means it has more of an uphill battle than many political observers realize.
Having spent large amounts of cash winning the New Jersey and Virginia governor's races in 2009, the Republican National Committee ended 2009 with $8.7 million in the bank, down from $22.8 million at the start of 2009, when Michael Steele took over as party chairman. It marks the lowest amount of cash on hand going into an election year in a decade, The Hill reports.
The NRC spent $90 million through November, or $20 million more than its Democratic counterpart, leading some observers to wonder whether the GOP has been wasting money. The Hill reports:
“They’re spending money at 2002 levels when they are not raising money at those levels,” said a GOP operative. “That kind of thing worked when RNC was awash in money, but you can’t do that in this environment.”
Off-years like 2009 are generally a time for committees to get their financial house in order. ... The RNC, though, made huge investments in New Jersey and Virginia, betting on the momentum created by those gubernatorial races to spur more giving. Both were big GOP wins, but the question for many in the party is whether they were worth such a dent in the party’s coffers....
Writing at Newsweek, Suzy Khimm suggests that the GOP's fundraising woes may have something to do with the rift between the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party leadership.
[L]ast year's elections also revealed the significant rift between the grassroots movement and the Republican apparatus. The right-wing base revolted against the NRCC when it poured money into moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava's campaign in New York's 23rd District, backing third-party challenger Doug Hoffman instead. As more mainstream conservative politicians joined the revolt, Scozzafava dropped out of the race?but Hoffman lost the general election. The election was both a stinging rebuke to the conservative activists who skewered Scozzafava and the national Republican leadership who failed to handle a revolt from their right flank.
Such rifts point to a more fundamental problem that's plaguing the GOP: the party's leadership vacuum. If the GOP proves unable to unite the right-wing populist base with moderates and independents, Republicans might not be able to channel public frustration into all the results it wants to see at the ballot box?or in its campaign coffers.
Politico reported over the weekend that the National Republican Congressional Committee, the main instrument for fighting congressional elections, raised one-third as much money last year as its Democratic counterpart. While the DCCC has $15.3 million going into 2010, with $2.6 million in debt, the NRCC has $4.3 million left, with $2 million in debt.
Politico suggests that this is in part due to "tightfisted" Republican incumbents who aren't donating to the party's coffers in nearly the numbers that Democrats are donating to their party's coffers.
But conservative commentator Matt Lewis told The Hill that individual donors are also staying away from the GOP leadership, instead sending their money to conservative activist groups or specific candidates.
"I think conservatives have decided it’s better to donate to groups like the Club for Growth — or to the candidates themselves," Lewis said.
That lack of enthusiasm for the GOP has many inside the party taking a hard look at the leadership of Michael Steele, The Hill reports.
Steele has endured a series of questions about the committee’s finances and his stewardship. The committee spent heavily on a new website, and Steele has drawn heat for renovating his office, awarding high salaries for close associates and accepting speaking fees.
Earlier this year, a group of RNC officials headed by Treasurer Randy Pullen presented Steele with a resolution asking for more checks and balances on his ability to award contracts and spend money.