Skip to content

GOP Retools With ‘Patriots’

At this morning’s House Republican Conference meeting, party leaders will unveil a new campaign fundraising and infrastructure program designed to strengthen vulnerable incumbents and hold Members more accountable if they expect any help from the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2010.

The new “Patriot” program is a major component of NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions’ (Texas) plan to overhaul the committee after back-to-back election cycles in which the GOP suffered major losses. The goal is to develop better communication between the committee and Members’ campaigns and to decrease the possibility of surprises late in the cycle.

As one Republican source put it Monday, the effort is also designed to “end the welfare state that the NRCC has become over the past six to eight years” by setting strict benchmarks for Members and adding one big stick to the process. Namely, those candidates who aren’t working to help themselves will be cut off from NRCC financial assistance.

“The goal is to help people and not to punish people,” said Mike Rogers (Mich.), chairman of the NRCC’s incumbent retention program. “But at the end of the day, we have very limited resources and we have seen in the past where Members just weren’t eager to help themselves … and it’s not right to ask the whole Conference to help those who aren’t willing to help themselves.”

The primary component of the new program will focus on 30 to 50 targeted GOP incumbents who could find themselves with a serious challenge on their hands in 2010. Those “patriots” are the ones who will likely be leaning on the NRCC the most this cycle.

In that sense, the Patriot program is similar to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program, which directs fundraising and other resources to vulnerable Members and has existed since the 2004 cycle. The DCCC released its list of 40 Frontline Members for 2010 on Monday.

“My mom always said imitation is the highest form of flattery,” DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said on Monday. “The good news about the NRCC this cycle is that we know what they are going to do because we did it first two to three cycles ago.”

In exchange for putting together fundraising events, bringing in big-name surrogates and spending committee time and resources to promote their campaigns, Patriot program members will have to agree to meet certain fundraising and volunteer recruitment thresholds, as well as develop communications and new media plans. The committee will also require program members to allow the committee access to lists of hired vendors to ensure resources are being used effectively.

While a Member’s campaign finance plan will be tailored to take into account his or her specific circumstances and abilities, the NRCC will hold Members accountable for biannual fundraising goals and scrutinize how much money the campaigns are spending — the “cash burn rate.” If a Member isn’t living up to his part of the bargain, the NRCC will not be afraid to trim the fat.

“This is about changing the culture within the Conference and inside the building at the NRCC,” an NRCC source said on Monday. “If we are serious about winning elections, then there needs to be a commitment to increasing the level of accountability and putting an end to political bailouts. Shoring up our incumbents by executing a stronger defensive strategy will ultimately enable the NRCC to play offense in a greater number of seats.”

The poster child last cycle for the NRCC’s bailout efforts was Idaho Rep. Bill Sali (R). Sali was outraised, outspent and, Republicans readily admit, outworked by his Democratic opponent in what should have been a safe seat for the GOP even in a good year nationally for Democrats. Sali received funds from the Regain Our Majority Program, and the NRCC spent its limited resources on trying to hold the seat before Sali went down in defeat.

Before Sali, Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) was a notoriously poor fundraiser who relied heavily on the NRCC for his re-election every two years until his defeat in 2006.

While the Patriot program will immediately help targeted Members most likely to need NRCC support this cycle, party leaders hope that in the coming weeks every House Republican will commit to the effort and use the program as a way to diagnose and strengthen their campaign organization. Sessions, House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and the rest of the GOP leadership team are expected to sign on to the Patriot program at today’s Conference meeting.

“It’s really designed to be that internal audit,” Rogers said. “It’s a gut check for some Members, it is perfunctory for others, but at the end of the day it will be an important tool for all of us to make sure that nobody ends up on that target list at the end of the year. … If we’re ever going to get to 218 [seats in the House], we have to keep the 178 that we have.”

Recent Stories

Strange things are afoot at the Capitol

Photos of the week ending May 24, 2024

Getting down on the Senate floor — Congressional Hits and Misses

US-China tech race will determine values that shape the future

What’s at stake in Texas runoff elections on Tuesday

Democrats decry ‘very, very harmful’ riders in Legislative Branch bill