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Sessions May Face Scrutiny

Roll Call

Correction Appended

Ten months after House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) ousted Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) as the party’s top campaign strategist, House Republicans continue to be plagued by funding woes and ugly intraparty skirmishes that have hurt their ability to win elections over the past several years.

Cole was criticized for sluggish fundraising and a string of 2008 special election losses in Mississippi, Illinois and Louisiana during his tenure as National Republican Congressional Committee chairman — criticisms that Boehner leveraged to eventually unseat him in favor of Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas).

“We cannot allow our candidates or the NRCC to be outraised as badly as we were last cycle if we are to regain the House,” Sessions wrote to Members in a November 2008 letter during his campaign for NRCC chairman.

But two messy special elections later, the NRCC lags behind its Democratic counterpart as well as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican National Committee in fundraising — and the committee is more than $10 million behind where the Cole-led NRCC was at this point in the 2007 election cycle.

This disparity has caused several Members, staff and GOP political operatives to question whether Sessions has delivered on his commitment to excel where he thought Cole had failed.

“They have the same fundamental problems that they have had for years and years and years,” said one GOP source with knowledge about the inner workings of the NRCC.

The source worried that by “pouring money into the special elections” the party ultimately loses, the NRCC is depleting funds vital later in the cycle.

“We need to be able to play when it really matters,” the GOP source said.

And while all of the campaign committees have taken a financial hit in the economic environment, Republicans are raising far less money this cycle from big-dollar donors, or donors who gave more than $200, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

At the end of September 2007, the NRCC had raised $16.6 million from big donors and $10.5 million from small donors — donors who gave less than $200. So far this cycle, the NRCC has raised $8.8 million from big donors and $8.6 million from small donors.

Despite the lower fundraising numbers and the GOP’s special-election loss earlier this year in New York’s 20th district — not to mention the chaotic race in New York’s 23rd district that will be decided Tuesday — Sessions has emerged largely unscathed from blame.

A GOP source close to the NRCC said Sessions’ close ties with Boehner has kept him from the withering criticism that Cole received when he led the committee.

Cole and Boehner clashed continually over the course of his tenure at the NRCC. The relationship eroded further after the string of special election losses that flipped all three GOP-held seats to Democratic control.

After a second round of devastating GOP losses in the 2008 elections following the party’s loss of the majority in 2006, Boehner endorsed Sessions over Cole in the race for NRCC chairman. Cole later dropped out of the running for the post.

“Boehner and his team didn’t like Tom from the get-go,” said one GOP source who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The NRCC “had $20 million of debt [when Cole arrived]. ... There was a lot of cleanup that Tom had to do.”

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