Safe Republican Candidates Earn Cred Giving to GOP Contenders

Posted October 30, 2010 at 11:45am

Call it being a team player.

If you’re a Republican House candidate flush with cash and poised to win, you can score points with leadership if you donate to competitive races. That cred could lead to good committee assignments down the line.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) followed that model in 2006 and ended up with a prime spot in leadership. Now he’s advising candidates from South Carolina to Missouri to do the same, even suggesting which contenders are most in need of funds for new ads.

In a great year for their party, some House Republican challengers are doing more to grow the incoming freshman class than just winning their own races. Several of these not-yet-elected candidates have supported their potential classmates in tougher races late in the campaign cycle, contributing not only to the National Republican Congressional Committee but also directly to fellow candidates.

South Carolina state Rep. Tim Scott, the prohibitive favorite in the race to replace retiring Rep. Henry Brown (R), said he gave to about 30 Republican contenders earlier this week. He might be the most prolific giver in a growing group of candidate-donors.

“I tried to find people who were philosophically consistent with where I am,” he said.

Scott is in good company. Tennessee’s Diane Black, Indiana’s Todd Rokita, Michigan’s Bill Huizenga, Missouri’s Billy Long, South Carolina’s Trey Gowdy, and Arkansas’ Tim Griffin and Steve Womack have all given to other Republicans in battleground races. It’s likely more have transferred funds, but it’s hard to track data of unelected candidates giving to other candidates, particularly in the closing stages of the race.

Republican candidates insist they give as a way to expand their team, not to position themselves for more prominent roles in the next Congress. One noted that the potential fellow freshmen they’re giving to won’t have much say on committee assignments either.

Scott told Roll Call in an interview he talked with candidates via phone and evaluated their stance on repealing health care, which he favors, or whether they had a small-business background or experience in local government. Finally, he looked for those in the most need.

“I’m kind of a matrix kind of guy,” Scott said. “I like looking at a matrix and saying here are three or four things that will make my time in Congress more helpful.”

Other Republicans used similar methods, or even donated to GOP leaders’ favored “Young Guns” contenders. Some said they prefer to give to challengers from their state or region. Some have long-standing relationships with the candidate they gave to; others have never talked to them. They might look for people who agree with them on specific issues or have other characteristics in common with them. Some give out of gratitude for help others gave them. Ultimately, they all want to grow a Republican majority.

In Michigan, Huizenga, a former state Representative, is likely to replace his former boss, Rep. Pete Hoekstra, who lost the gubernatorial primary in August. He said supporting other candidates is part of a more extensive process of building relationships, which could prove useful if he makes it to Washington.

“I want to be in the majority, and if there are men and women that I’ve met that I’ve clicked with that we’re starting to see a common vision and those kinds of things, whether it’s through the NRCC or giving them money directly, I want to do that,” he said.

Gowdy, the Spartanburg County solicitor who defeated Rep. Bob Inglis in South Carolina’s June Republican runoff, donated to Palmetto State candidate Mick Mulvaney. Gowdy met Mulvaney during the course of the campaign. Then Gowdy looked for “kindred spirits.”

“I also kind of went through the Young Guns pamphlet that Rep. [Eric] Cantor gave me, and as a DA I feel an affinity with other folks who have that background,” he said. “I picked out, I think, two that were DAs. That is not a traditional proving ground for Congress, but they’re kind of kindred spirits.”

Huizenga said getting to know other candidates has been useful for him as he talks to people in his district about what’s going on nationally.

“I’ll say, let me tell you about a new friend I’ve got, Steve Fincher from Frog Jump, Tennessee,” he explained. Then he can frame the national election in the way Fincher, a farmer and gospel singer, is doing in his tight race against state Sen. Roy Herron for retiring Democratic Rep. John Tanner’s seat. Fincher’s FEC reports include financial contributions from other candidates.

McCarthy, now the recruitment chair for the NRCC and a co-founder of its Young Guns program, did the same thing when he first ran for Congress in 2006. In an interview on Wednesday, McCarthy said he first raised $50,000 for the NRCC and then began to travel the country in support of other candidates, getting to know them as they campaigned in their own districts. He said that since it was a tough cycle for Republican incumbents, he focused his attention on Republican challengers.

“I felt these would be my colleagues, and these were people getting the least amount of attention from the NRCC because they were focusing everywhere else,” he said.

It has paid off for the second-term Republican. McCarthy was unopposed in his bid to be the freshman representative on the Republican Study Committee following his win and has been on the fast track since. He continues to give generously to Republican candidates, especially now that he meets them early in their Congressional races, and he has encouraged candidates who have secured their own victory to give toward other candidates.

McCarthy said candidates seek his advice about where they might be able to send extra funds, and his suggestions change every week depending on, for example, who he knows can nearly afford a new media buy or whose race is just becoming competitive.

McCarthy said more candidates would like to give, but not every candidate should.

“If you’re in a tight race the No. 1 thing you can do is win your election,” he said. “That’s why I don’t advise everybody to do it.”