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GOP Rejoices In 2003 Results

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) circulated a memo last night arguing that the 2003 elections “give us reason to celebrate” heading into next November.

The memo, which Reynolds sent to his House colleagues, notes that Republicans won governorships in California, Kentucky and Mississippi in the past year. Only in Louisiana were Republicans unsuccessful.

“The recent string of gubernatorial victories has left the Democrats demoralized,” Reynolds wrote. “Democrats wanted a referendum on the President and they got it — Republicans were victorious and Democrats got thumped.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Kori Bernards disputed that assertion.

“History tells us that if off-year gubernatorial elections were a measure of on-year elections, we would be in charge of Congress,” she said.

In his memo, Reynolds outlined the three “C’s” that he hopes will define the year leading up to the 2004 elections: cash, candidates and case.

“We must have the cash to operate and more cash than our opponents,” wrote Reynolds. “We must have the candidates to lock up the Republican open seat races and challenge vulnerable Democrats. And finally, we must make the case why Republican leadership is needed.”

While the tone of the memo is generally upbeat, Reynolds also worked to keep expectations in check, pointing out that a number of competitive special elections may be on the horizon, that presumed gains as a result of redistricting in Texas and Colorado are far from assured and that the committee will be able to spend only half of what it did in 2002 on races because of campaign finance reform.

Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, passed in the 107th Congress, national party committees are banned from raising and spending so-called soft money, which could be raised and spent in unlimited chunks.

That said, House Republicans continue to maintain a hard-money edge. Through September, the NRCC had raised $60 million for the cycle and had $8.7 million on hand. Not mentioned in Reynolds’ letter is the $54 million the organization has spent — much of it on donor prospecting through a phone-banking company known as Infocision.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had raised $20 million through the third quarter, spent $15 million and finished September with $6.3 million left in the bank. The DCCC still carried roughly $1.7 million in debt from the 2002 cycle. The NRCC eliminated its $1 million debt over the summer.

“Based on last cycle’s fundraising total and our projections for 2004, we will have at least 50 percent less to spend on races this cycle because of BCRA than we had during the 2002 campaign,” Reynolds said.

The fundraising squeeze could be further exacerbated by the possibility of several competitive special elections.

First on the docket will be the race to replace GOP Rep. Ernie Fletcher, Kentucky’s incoming governor. Fletcher will be sworn in Dec. 9 and a special election will be held in either late January or early February.

The 6th district leans toward Republicans, but both parties are expected to work to establish momentum there.

Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin (R) seems all but certain to resign his seat before next year’s election to accept a post as head of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Embattled Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.) will go on trial in December for his involvement in an Aug. 16 car accident that left a motorcyclist dead. Janklow has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, a felony, as well as several misdemeanors.

If either seat comes open, both parties’ ability to raise adequate funds to back their candidates will be tested.

In Virginia’s 4th district, the only competitive special election of the 2002 cycle, both the NRCC and the DCCC spent more than $4 million. Rep. Randy Forbes (R) won the seat.

Reynolds is even more blunt about the party’s prospects in Texas, where the GOP- controlled Legislature passed a redistricting plan earlier in the year that could deliver as many as seven more seats to Republicans in 2004. Democrats are appealing the ruling as both parties await a decision on preclearance from the Justice Department.

“If the current map is upheld, don’t assume the Democrats will walk away from potentially competitive races,” writes Reynolds. “In order to take advantage of the opportunities in Texas, there is a tremendous amount of work to be done on races that need to be won.”

Rep. Charlie Stenholm, the ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, has said he will run for re-election regardless of which map is in place. Under the GOP map, he would be placed in a district with freshman Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R). Despite the GOP slant of the seat, Republicans have expressed concern that Stenholm could prevail in that race.

Similarly, Democratic Rep. Martin Frost has not ruled out facing off with one of several GOP challengers. Frost is an aggressive campaigner and savvy strategist and could pose problems for whichever GOP incumbent he chooses to battle.

While neither side has been particularly successful in recruiting, Reynolds notes that Democrats have only nine candidates in competitive seats with more than $10,000 on hand.

“Republicans have focused on and succeeded in recruiting candidates who fit their district and will run strong races,” said Reynolds. “Democrats are still recruiting candidates in competitive races where they should already have a candidate in place raising money.”

Reynolds went on to detail his organization’s recruiting accomplishments, referencing a number of candidates making rematches after running unsuccessfully in 2002.

Eight Republican challengers who received between 45 percent and 49 percent of the vote are set to run again.

“In these close races, a strong showing by the President and the increased turnout that comes in a presidential election year may be all that is needed to push these candidates over the top,” Reynolds wrote.

In seven of the eight districts President Bush would have won a majority in the 2000 race.

Bernards labeled the Republican recruiting class as “retreads,” adding that 11 Republican House Members have already announced their retirement compared to just four Democrats. Only five of those 15 seats are considered remotely competitive, however.

Citing the slow recruitment as well as the paucity of competitive seats after the 2001 redistricting, Reynolds concludes that Republicans are very likely to remain in the majority.

“The narrowing of the field of competitive districts makes the math very difficult for Democrats to make any gains in the House, and with sparse recruiting a Democratic takeover is all but impossible,” Reynolds said.

Again, however, Reynolds warned that complacency or a failure to recognize that the national winds can change quickly could quickly reverse the GOP’s current course: “It’s nice to have conventional wisdom recognizing our efforts, but pundits don’t decide who runs the country. That’s why we hold elections.”

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