GOP eyes Trump midterm spending with relief, concern

Elections 2022

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Mesa, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

(NEXSTAR) — Republicans are breathing a little easier after former President Donald Trump opened the financial spigot and began spending on behalf of GOP Senate candidates involved in tight battles that could determine which party controls the upper chamber.

As of Monday, the Trump-sanctioned super PAC MAGA Inc., which the former president’s allies formed in late September, had poured $5 million into five competitive states with ads focusing on key Senate and gubernatorial races. 

The financial foray came after weeks of criticism from corners of the party that, outside his trademark rallies, Trump wasn’t doing enough to support the very Republican candidates he had propelled to primary wins in crucial battlegrounds.

“Any money to send Republicans is helpful. It’s smart politics for Trump. He wants to help the team. It’s a win for everybody,” one GOP strategist involved in the midterms told The Hill. “I think every one of these races is close. … It’s helpful. The more money spent attacking Democrats, the better. It helps him to look like a team player.”

According to AdImpact, an advertisement tracking firm, MAGA Inc. has dropped money into Ohio, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada — all of which are hosting some of the tightest Senate races of the cycle. A second GOP operative told The Hill that they expect the former president’s newly minted group to spend in one or two more states. 

As of the end of July, Trump’s Save America PAC had raised $135 million since he left office and spent $36 million of that total, leaving him with $99.1 million in the bank that Republicans clamored for him to spend ahead of next month’s elections. 

In an interview last week, shortly before Trump’s spending began, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) told The Hill that it was “disappointing” to see that the former president had not stepped in to deliver monetary help to Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and other GOP Senate candidates he had endorsed. Santorum added the message Trump had been signaling to those campaigns was, “You’re on your own.” 

Now, however, Republicans believe Trump’s decision was not just good for the campaigns, but also for him personally as he continues to tease a 2024 presidential run.

“It is wise and super important that he engaged in some of these races. There was a fair criticism going around if he were to not spend,” the second operative said. “Certainly, any place he spends, he’s going to talk about it for months to months on end.”

There are still concerns surrounding the timing of Trump’s spending. 

The late ad reservations coupled with the rate outside groups usually secure mean he is not getting the bang for his buck that he could have gotten if he made the move earlier. 

They also come as Democratic nominees across the country are breaking fundraising records.

As a third GOP strategist noted, candidate dollars go roughly 30 percent further than those spent at this point by a third-party group.

“It doesn’t have the same impact,” said the strategist, who is involved in races on the midterm map. “The support is helpful. Making it about candidates, not Trump, is important. This is about electing Blake Masters. This is about electing Adam Laxalt. This is about electing Mehmet Oz. … This is about them and their races, and it’s not about Donald Trump.”

“The rising tide lifts all boats and if Trump helps them across the finish line, this is helpful to Donald Trump,” the strategist continued.

Republicans are also waiting to see whether the former president’s spending will extend to the House map.

Thus far, the ads released in all five states are focused on Senate contests, with only one focusing any attention on a gubernatorial race — for Arizona Republican nominee Kari Lake. 

Some strategists believe Trump’s financial might would go farther if targeted in key districts that feature Democratic incumbents in toss-up races. 

If Republicans keep hold of the seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania, they just need one seat to retake the majority. On the House side, Democrats hold a four-seat majority, but the GOP holds the edge to retake the chamber, according to the Cook Political Report. 

The second operative said that it would be a “surprise” if the PAC makes a House investment at this point. A Trump spokesman did not respond to a request for comment over whether they plan to engage in House contests.

“We’re looking at a situation in the House where months ago, we were talking about a red wave and 235 to 240 seats. Now we’re talking about 223 to 227. Trump’s help could get that to 230, maybe,” the third strategist said, noting that Trump’s spending now is taking place in expensive cities such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Phoenix and Las Vegas. 

The strategist used Republican Zach Nunn’s battle against Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) as a prime example, as spending would center on the Des Moines, Iowa, and Omaha, Neb., markets, where Trump’s dollars would have a “real, real impact.” The strategist said they do not have a client running in the district. 

“Nobody is spending serious money in those markets. You could help flip those seats for a lot smaller of a financial impact,” the strategist said.

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