How Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy Tried to Buy a Midterm Republican Rout


This post is part of Slate’s Election Day Questionnaire, where we ask reporters to discuss topics they covered during the midterm campaign.

Natalie: Let’s talk about money. Jim, did you write recently about how the Dems put money behind MAGA guys? Will it backfire? Alex, you wrote recently that the Democrats have gotten a little smarter about spending, but they’ve also been taken in by a big new donor. How do you think the Dems get to midterm, money-wise?

Jim: Yes, the Democrats tried to take advantage of a unique situation: teaming up with Donald Trump to elevate election deniers and all the above conspiracy theorists in the Republican primaries in hopes of attracting more opponents. weak in general elections. We will soon find out just how much it turns out! But, at least according to the polls, it looks like some of the investments will pay off, particularly in the gubernatorial races: Josh Shapiro is expected to beat Doug Mastriano in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, Dan Cox hasn’t approached Wes Moore in the race for governor of Maryland, and Governor JB Pritzker is in good shape in Illinois. The biggest threat of blowback appears to be in New Hampshire, where Don Bolduc, whom Senate Democrats have backed, has a good chance of ousting Sen. Maggie Hassan. Alex?

Alexander: Hassan was also one of eight Democratic senators who sabotaged the party’s bid to pass a $15 minimum wage — Democrats are also perfectly suited to kneel. The other race worth watching to see how well this bet pays off is Michigan’s 3rd congressional district. Democrats have done a lot to boost John Gibbs, who is waaay to the right of Republican incumbent Peter Meijer, one of ten House GOP members to vote to impeach Trump. Gibbs won, but Dem’s involvement in the race drew a ton of outcry and condemnation within the party over the whole practice, especially as party leaders cried poor in other races. critics, cutting expenses and lamenting the fundraising environment. Democrat Hillary Scholten is expected to win the seat, but there have been very few polls on the race and the House has tended to swing steadily towards Republicans lately.

Was there a big fundraising rush last week? Month?

Alexander: At this point, there is some parity in the overall spending numbers, when all of the spending for the House, Senate, and gubernatorial race are added together. But Democrats have caught up a lot in the past few weeks, as Republicans have raised a boatload of cash throughout the year and then really unleashed it over the past two months. Of particular note is the $500 million raised by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for the GOP in the House. It’s just an amazing amount, and has allowed the party to have super aggressive Democrats in a number of blue districts they otherwise wouldn’t have a hand in. And Mitch McConnell, always a fundraising wizard, found enough money to overcome really weak Senate candidates. These two lured a whole new class of megadonors off the sidelines. Democrats have had more success with individual candidates raising their own money than with their broad party-wide groups.

Jim: I think the pace of ad spending by each party says a lot about the midterm story. Democratic groups hammered Republicans throughout the summer as Republican candidates still tried to navigate their way through turbulent primaries. This, with the Dobbs The decision, falling gas prices and a successful burst of activity in Congress appeared to improve the Dems’ fortunes. But once the new explosion of these developments died down and the Republican primaries were ruled out, Democrats were hit with a dump truck of spending on how they all want to let all murderers out of jail. , just when voters were starting to pay the most attention. And you saw, when the Republican spending machine became fully operational, just about every major race tightened up.

Who had the most expensive races of the cycle?

Jim: Victory would appear to go to John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz in the Pennsylvania Senate race, where candidates and outside groups (mostly outside groups), according to OpenSecrets, have spent more than $300 million. The Georgia, Arizona and Nevada Senate races follow. That makes sense, because these are the tightest races in the Senate, and it’s an arms race between the two sides to maintain spending parity. Federal elections, post-Citizens United, are mostly just biennial transfers of wealth from those with disposable income to owners of telecommunications systems.

Alexander: It’s especially insane given that Georgia is almost certainly heading to a second round, which means we’re going to have a hundred million dollar cut two months down the road. No surprise, it’s the most expensive midterm cycle ever. The Senate numbers are obscene, but this is also the first cycle where we’ve consistently seen outside spending in congressional primaries jump to seven figures; a bunch of races are now well into the eight-figure range for overall. For Democrats, the most expensive races have also been the most fanciful. The highest home race was in Georgia’s 13th, where Democrat Marcus Flowers takes on Marjorie Taylor-Greene and has a less than zero chance of winning. Oregon’s 6th congressional primary candidate Carrick Flynn crossed the $10 million mark but didn’t even make it to the general.

Democrats have gotten a little smarter about spending, but they’ve also been taken in by a big new donor.

Alexander: 2020 Democratic megadonors Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer have mostly been silent in 2022. Desperate for a new sponsor, they courted Sam Bankman-Fried, a 30-year-old crypto titan and founder of FTX. Bankman-Fried quickly became the party’s second-largest contributor, but spent most of it defeating progressives in the Democratic primaries, then announced he was out of the political spending game three weeks before Election Day, when the Democrats were in desperate need. Today we found out that Bankman-Fried is selling a large chunk of its crypto empire thanks to sudden liquidity issues. It might not just be the Dems who are frozen here; he might be completely out of money. One of the many perils of banking on a billionaire paper dependent on an industry ravaged by fraud. Are there any GOP backers who have stuck with you, Jim?

Jim: It’s interesting how the pecking order of GOP donors has changed over the past decade. It’s the first election cycle since the death of Sheldon Adelson, to begin with, and his widow Miriam has donated “only” $20 million this year. Koch Industries put out much the same. (Charles Koch never quite agreed with the Trumpified version of the party.) These were the GOP masters of the universe!

Who pays the bill instead? Probably the most covered Republican donor of the cycle was tech investor Peter Thiel who, as you wrote Alex, bought a few Senate nominations for his Orcs. Otherwise, it’s a bunch of financial executives and captains of industry. In the 2010s, purchases of toilet paper and paper cups fueled the Kochs’ political spending. Today, it is the explosion in demand for cardboard boxes in the age of the pandemic that allows Uihleins to support the Republican Party. Which everyday item that a Republican monopoly has cornered will pay for future cycles of Republican ads? Copper-bottomed pots? GLASS? We’re going see.


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