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News / Politics

House Speaker’s unpopularity with rich donors widens Republicans’ fundraising gap

By Steven T. Dennis, Bill Allison and Billy House, Steven T. Dennis, Bill Allison and Billy House, Bloomberg News
Published: March 22, 2024, 8:26am

House Republicans are falling further behind on campaign cash with little-known House Speaker Mike Johnson at the helm.

Unlike his predecessor, Kevin McCarthy, Johnson is struggling to build a donor network. His difficulties come just months before the November election with Republicans’ narrow majority at risk.

Johnson, who lacks McCarthy’s fundraising prowess and deep business ties, has dramatically ramped up meetings with donors, traveling to 50 cities in nearly 20 states. But the party’s deficit with Democrats is growing, according to federal filings.

The gap echoes a trend at the presidential level in which President Joe Biden is vastly out-raising presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Johnson’s reputation as a devout evangelical Christian who frequently makes biblical references is at odds with the beliefs of some business executives invited to meetings and dinners, one person familiar with GOP fundraising said.

Another donor said Johnson, who represents a district in northwestern Louisiana, comes off as much more thoughtful than McCarthy. Yet his very thin majority and a rule that makes it fairly easy to remove a speaker put him in a difficult position. Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida deployed that mechanism to overthrow McCarthy.

There were also aggressive efforts to court donors on the sidelines of an American Enterprise Institute event at the Sea Island resort in Georgia, which one person said was seen as a faux pas and a sign of desperation on Johnson’s part because that event is generally devoid of fundraising.

Earlier: Cash-Strapped Trump Badly Trails Biden in 2024 Money Race

“He’s had to jump in. I mean, he had no political operation. He had to build one as we’re going,” said Representative Richard Hudson of North Carolina, who chairs the House GOP campaign arm. “He’s exceeded my expectations,” Hudson added, describing Johnson as “humble,” “genuine” and “smart,” as opposed to McCarthy’s “fun” personality.

Money Stats

The National Republican Congressional Committee raised $8.2 million in February and began March with $45.2 million cash on hand. Its Democratic counterpart raised nearly double that — $14.5 million over the same period — and has $59.2 million in the bank.

House Republicans, including Representative Nick LaLota of New York, who faces a competitive race in his Long Island district, say they are confident in Johnson’s abilities to close the fundraising gap and preserve the GOP’s majority. His allies say he is working very hard to win over donors. They point to the more than $10 million he’s personally raised for the NRCC, as well as money for other reelection efforts.

Representative Ryan Zinke, a Montana Republican, praised Johnson as a thoughtful and kind conservative, but said the new leader has been playing “catch up” following McCarthy’s ouster, calling the former speaker a “juggernaut” fundraiser.

“Business likes certainty, so they can look at planning and determine what the return on investment is,” he said. “It seems every day we wake up and we’re not quite sure where the day is going to go.”

Democrats’ fundraising advantage has already helped them this year. Thomas Suozzi, a former Democratic congressman from Long Island, flipped the Republican seat held by George Santos, who was expelled from the chamber. Suozzi’s campaign spent millions more than that of his GOP rival, Mazi Pilip.

Senate Forecast

With the challenges facing the House GOP, some donors see the Senate as a better investment. Republicans in that chamber have avoided much of the chaos and in-fighting that have plagued their House counterparts in recent months. That makes them a more attractive option for donors who want candidates who can help advance their policy goals on taxes, energy production and deregulation.

Senate Republicans have a favorable map that has them defending just 11 seats — all in deeply Republican states — compared to 23 held by Democrats and independents who caucus with the party.

Unlike the House effort, the Senate Republican fundraising arm out-raised Democrats in February, and ended the month with $24.8 million cash on hand. Yet Democrats still have an edge on cash in the bank, reporting $31.9 million.

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Recruits for key Senate races also include several wealthy candidates, including former Bridgewater Associates LP chief executive officer David McCormick in Pennsylvania, who are prepared to spend millions of their own money.

Jason Thielman, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, pitched the Senate GOP as the “firewall of freedom” in a Bloomberg Government interview last month and said it’s fair to say he’s glad he works for the Senate campaign committee rather than the House one.

“I certainly have the less challenging of the two positions,” Thielman said. “The difficulties in the House have actually, I would say, aided our recruitment, ironically, in some situations, because it creates a lot more uncertainty over our ability to retain the House,” he added.

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