House Republicans have one question for their Democratic counterparts: What wave?
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers took a brief victory lap in a Tuesday night interview with POLITICO after locking down the last of four House special elections for his party.
Just minutes after the Associated Press called former Rep. Tom Price’s Georgia seat for Republican Karen Handel, the Ohio lawmaker noted that Democrats itching to retake the House in 2018 desperately needed a victory Tuesday. Millions of dollars later — Democrat Jon Ossoff’s was the most well-funded candidate in House history — they didn’t get it, he boasted.
“I’d love to see where their momentum is at 0 and 4,” Stivers said when asked what the race said about Democrats’ prospects of taking the House in 2018. “They poured $33 million into this seat and came away short. That just goes to show you that when you spend $33 million but you talk about issues that the American people don’t believe, you can’t win.”
He later added: “Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do," to keep the House in the midterms, "but I think we’ve proven ourselves pretty solidly at this point, by being outspent by $10 million, having them throw the kitchen sink at us, and we still win.”
Still, it’s not all good news for the NRCC, and Stivers knows his campaign arm will have to put up a fight to maintain their grip on the House. Just last week in close-door conference, GOP leaders warned their colleagues that average mid-term turnover in the first term of a new presidency averages about 32 seats. That would cost them their majority.
What’s more, while Republicans won all four of the congressional districts districts vacated after Trump plucked GOP congressmen for administration posts, each race was closer than usually — and each cost millions to protect. Those districts are typically considered Republican strongholds. But Democrats were able to harness widespread anti-President Donald Trump sentiments to churn those races into nail-biters.
Democratic candidates in the special elections were also roughly 20 points closer to their Republican foes, in terms of margins, than they had been last year.
The left’s ability to energize the base was on display Tuesday, when Republican Ralph Norman barely won the South Carolina special election by a shocking 3-point margin. That same district sent Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney to Washington to represent them for years — one of the most conservative members in the House.
Still, Democrats around the nation were hoping for a win. They know that if they want a shot at taking back the House, they’re going to need to turn highly educated, anti-Trump GOP districts like Price’s, blue.
Stivers is taking solace in the fact that they haven’t. He says it’s because their candidates are too far left.
“[Democrats] are outside the mainstream of the American public in districts they need to win, like Georgia 6, where not only did we win but we actually expanded the margin tonight over the presidential election in 2016,” he said.
Stivers said the Democratic strategy of trying to make every House race a referendum on Trump also isn’t working. Democrats tried unsuccessfully to tie vulnerable House Republican candidates to Trump in 2016; most of them, however outran Trump — even in districts Hillary Clinton carried.
Stivers said Democrats are using the same tactic now and, once again, failing: Handel beat Ossoff by a larger margin (about 4 points) than Trump beat Hillary Clinton in that district in 2016 (about 1 point, down from Mitt Romney’s 24-point margin in 2012).
Asked what the special elections said about Trump’s toxicity for the House GOP conference, Stivers said he sees none: “[Democrats] like to say that, but the question is: Do they have any examples of where they can show it’s true? … I don’t see any evidence. … In four special elections, we’re 4 and 0 and they’re 0 and 4. So, you know, at some point you have to actually have facts to back up what you say. You can’t just make stuff up.”
Just 24 hours ago, Republicans were fretting the massive war chest Ossoff built. On Tuesday night, Stivers pointed to it as point of pride, or a battle wound, noting that Republicans were even able to withstand such massive spending numbers pouring in from across the nation.
“You can’t have New York and San Francisco money and ideas win in Georgia or Kansas or Montana or Texas or almost anywhere else,” he said. “They thought they could take national money and pour it into Georgia and change an election. … but you can’t change the fabric of society with $30 million.”
Privately, Republicans are trying to assure themselves that Democrats won’t be able to replicate the war chest they built for Ossoff in Georgia for every Democratic challenger in the 2018 midterms. Still, Stivers and GOP leaders have been telling Republicans to get their fundraising numbers up as soon as possible, just in case.