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Will Steele's Antics Cost the GOP a Wave?

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Will GOP Chair Michael Steele's well-documented antics cost the GOP a wave in November? Or, rather, have Steele's foibles already cost the GOP what's likely to be its best opportunity to retake the House and Senate during the Obama presidency?

Enthusiasm alone doesn't win elections; detesting Democratic policies more vehemently -- forget Obama's being a socialist, he's a commie! -- won't make John Boehner speaker. Facilitating a nationwide electoral wave requires infrastructure.

Infrastructure that Michael Steele may already be costing Republicans.

In numbers reported for the month of May at the end of June, according the a Washington Times report, the Republican National Committee (RNC) had $12.6 million cash on hand to allocate for individual races. For a point of reference, each May between 2002 and 2009 the RNC had an average of $35,434,123.45 cash on hand. Both the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) have out-raised the RNC, a situation without precedent during the past 12 years.

This state of affairs is fairly easy to understand, and even easier for sympathetic voices to spin. In June, a group of former high-level RNC donors signed a letter urging top contributors to steer their money toward the NRSC in lieu of Steele's RNC. And the NRSC and NRCC have been holding their own with their Democratic counterparts, with $18.2 million and $12 million cash on hand respectively.

Besides, the RNC's fundraising numbers look great, compared to what they pulled in during the historic 1994 campaign! (Unless one factors in inflation, and the increased cost of running a multi-media campaign in 1994 vs. 2010. But why dampen their spirits?)

A review of the 2006 midterms -- four years in the past, not fourteen -- underscores the hole the RNC is busy digging for aspiring Republican candidates. Despite the thumpin' the Dems handed the GOP in 2006, those elections could have turned out significantly worse for Republicans -- if it weren't for the efforts of the RNC.

Republicans actually outspent the Democrats by more than $11 million in 2006, most of that difference being made up by the RNC. The RNC devoted a whopping $17.4 million to the campaigns of individual congressional candidates which, as a report by the Campaign Finance Institute explains, "made up for the aggregate spending advantage achieved by the Democratic Hill Committees over the Republican Hill Committees" and "helped to overcome the large gap between the DSCC and NRSC." Out of the 80 cases in 2006 in which party spending made up over a quarter of a candidate's total expenditure 41 were Republicans. Out of the 17 cases in which the party spent more than its congressional candidate, 12 were Republicans.

It is also worth noting that all the information we have now for the 2010 midterm elections is woefully incomplete. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of party expenditures in individual races are made in the final months -- and usually weeks -- of the campaign season. The bulk of the money that will be spent on upcoming elections has yet to even be donated -- making the RNC's pre-July crackup even more harmful to the GOP's prospects.

Election day 2010 will reveal whether or not Republicans' new way of doing business -- with donors focusing on the NRSC and NRCC, as well as newly-formed 527 groups run by past heavyweights such as Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie -- can provide the sort of coordinated financial support needed to transform a cycle of local elections into a national movement. But it would seem impossible to argue that the task wouldn't be far simpler were the RNC equipped to play the expected role that is, in essence, its only justification for existence.

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