What's At Stake This Year According To The National Republican Congressional Committee
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
At stake in tonight's election - future control of the House of Representatives. Republicans are defending 41 open seats after resignations, primary losses and retirements. Dozens more are considered tight races in an election where Democrats have outspent and out-raised the GOP, a trend that's been called a green wave.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is in charge of helping defend that Republican majority. Jesse Hunt is spokesperson for the NRCC and joins us now. Welcome to the program.
JESSE HUNT: Great. Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: Can we talk a little bit about that fundraising? Did Republicans underestimate the amount of money individual Democratic candidates could raise?
HUNT: We knew from the outset of this cycle that Democratic enthusiasm was going to be up, and we worked hard to combat that. We raised the most money that we ever have in our organization's history, totaling $186 million to date.
Preparing for that was one of the top priorities of the committee. We emphasized to our members and candidates early on that you needed to be prepared for the Democratic enthusiasm, the amount of money they'd be able to raise, meaning you need to raise money early and often.
Maybe candidates or members haven't done - hadn't done that in the past. And it was important that they begin in earnest to kind of contend with what was coming. The vast majority did. Some didn't, and they will feel the effects of that today.
CORNISH: Do you need to ramp up your own efforts to raise money from small donors next time around?
HUNT: Like I said, we raised the most amount of money in our organization's history.
CORNISH: So you think it's the candidates who needed to step up in some areas.
HUNT: In some cases, the candidates did not heed our advice and did not do all they needed to do and that's preparing early, running real campaigns and raising money early and often.
CORNISH: Now, House Speaker Paul Ryan had appealed for President Trump to focus on the economy in the final stretch. And the president did talk about Republican tax cuts, but he's also focused much attention on immigration, culminating in this ad released earlier this week vilifying immigrants. It's being called racist, and it was an ad that was pulled by both Fox News and NBC.
How has that focus by President Trump on immigration, not on Republican gains, affected House GOP candidate races?
HUNT: We actually, as an organization, just released 15 new ads during the final stretch of the campaign focused on the economy. The president will, you know, touch on several different topics, immigration including. We found that immigration in many battleground districts was an important issue to a lot of voters. And the Democratic agenda on immigration is out of step with the mainstream - abolishing ICE and protecting sanctions...
CORNISH: So you think these actions moved the needle.
HUNT: I think the president emphasizing immigration, in many cases, is something that appeals to voters, including in a lot of these battleground districts that we're following tonight that will ultimately determine the majority, in addition to the economic message, which I know he hit on at his rallies in the closing days, in addition to his Twitter account.
CORNISH: What concerns do you have when this goes too far? I know the NRCC has not been spending on behalf of Iowa Republican Steve King. He's another anti-immigration candidate. The head of the NRCC has called his comments and retweets inappropriate and saying that we need to stand up against white supremacy.
What's the difference between, like, King's messages and Trump with these ads that the networks are refusing to run?
HUNT: As it relates to Steve King, Steve King made several inflammatory comments. Our chairman felt like it was appropriate to step up and say something about the comments and the rhetoric that he - that he was espousing. We haven't hesitated to show moral leadership on issues like that.
We had a candidate in New Jersey, too, who was making frequent - or had in the past and was not backing down from anti-Semitic views. We revoked our support for him. And he was someone who'd never received funding from the NRCC. So that's been a pattern for us over the cycle, and that's something that I think the chairman felt was important.
CORNISH: If the GOP does lose the House or keep a slim majority, there's going to be a lot of moderate Republicans who are going to be gone, right? And those that remain are going to be tilting more to the right. What does this mean for your party's leadership?
HUNT: I think if you look at the current state of politics, there's far more ideological purity on the Democrats' side. Single-payer health care has become the primary-adopted issue on the issue of health care for many Democrats. If you look at...
CORNISH: But fundamentally, has your party changed, right? It's now the party of Trump.
HUNT: I think if you look across the aisle and see what the Democrats have on their side, it is very much - you saw how the Senate Democrats handled it during the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. You're seeing it in protests across the country. They very much intend on thwarting the Republican agenda, obstructing it at all costs, with no inclination to work towards a bipartisan compromise on the many issues that are facing our country.
CORNISH: That's Jesse Hunt. He's a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. Thank you for speaking with us.
HUNT: Great. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.