The chaos at the Republican National Committee threatens to cost Republicans the chance to take control of the House of Representatives, Republican strategists fear. During midterm elections, the national committee plays two essential roles. First, it serves as a bank account that can be drawn upon to shore up House races or put others into play. Second, it coordinates the party's field operations and funds joint "Victory" committees with state parties. The RNC, at the moment, is barely fulfilling the second function and has less than $10 million on hand, so it cannot help much with House races.
Charlie Cook, the political oddsmaker, rates 73 House races as competitive. To win the House, Republicans would need to pick up 44 seats. They have the candidates to do that, but Democrats have a significant financial advantage to put toward holding seats; the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has twice as much cash on hand as the National Republican Campaign Committee. As Cook has noted, even if Republicans win most of the toss-up seats and races that lean Republican, they'd have to win about half the seats that lean Democrat right now.
The degraded political environment, the sluggish or non-existent economic recovery, and the enthusiasm of Republican base voters are intangibles that, properly harnessed, could easily put Republicans over the top. But without a solid field program to bring voters to the polls, and with ranks of well-funded Democratic incumbents, that edge could be lost on election day.
The party's well-regarded political director, Gentry Collins, has seen his budget slashed considerably, and state parties have complained about the condition of the party's Voter Vault datamart. Many state parties are outsourcing their targeting operations, which would have been unthinkable during the flush years of the Bush-Cheney administrations.
The latest scandal, involving $7 million that the RNC's own treasurer categorized as unreported debt, will undermine any opportunity the party has to regain its financial footing before the election. The NRCC does not expect any money from the RNC and is instead relying on the much less efficient mechanisms created by Republican strategists and donors who can't coordinate with campaigns and the committees.
The personal conflict between RNC Treasurer Randy Pullen and RNC chairman Michael Steele complicates the plot, but it is much less significant than the chaos it represents. In a memo designed to respond to Pullen's charges, two highly regarded Republican lawyers wrote that the money was not reported to the FEC on time because the party has instituted much more stringent controls on spending, an explanation that does not make sense given the availability of modern financial accounting computer systems.
Also endangered could be the one thing Steele hopes will be his legacy: a reformed presidential primary process. That'll be put up for a vote at the RNC's summer meeting early next month. Already, it has drawn internal fire from the party's presidential candidates, who worry that it will force states to hold smaller nominating contests, like caucuses and conventions, that benefit more conservative candidates. Steele's plan would place a majority of states out of compliance from the get-go, throwing the calendar and its implications on the mercy of Democrats, who'll want Republicans to elect an extreme nominee.