Ostensibly designed to brief lawmakers on the closing weeks of the campaign, the memo -- written by Rob Simms, executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee -- is also clearly designed to catch the attention of top Republican donors, who may be more focused on helping preserve control of the U.S. Senate or sitting on money out of opposition to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
The memo never mentions Trump, but Simms writes that GOP lawmakers have "largely insulated themselves from the negative effects of the national environment" by focusing on official constituent concerns and aggressive fundraising. The presidential race "is beginning to create uncertainty in several of these races, as legitimate questions are now being asked about whether the unprecedented unfavorability of the presidential candidates will lead to depressed turnout."
With 247 seats heading into November, House Republicans can afford to lose up to 29 and still hold the majority next year. Top leaders admit they are expected to lose ground. Democrats have made a late push to put as many seats as possible into contention, particularly in suburban areas where Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is not popular and could serve as a drag on down-ballot races. Polls show Democrats keeping pace with GOP incumbents in districts across the country, especially key races in Florida, Minnesota and Nevada. Even Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) -- a longtime foe of the Obama administration from a San Diego-area district -- is now believed to be at risk.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), NRCC Chairman Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and other top leaders have raised record sums of cash for Republicans this year, but Simms says the party will not be able to match the $21 million raised by House Democrats in September. A Democratic super PAC, House Majority PAC, is also spending tens of millions of dollars in TV advertising to knock off Republican incumbents.
"Historically, we have shown that we don’t need to match Democrat spending in order to be successful. But in this volatile environment, the current fundraising gap is unsustainable, and will negatively affect Republican electoral prospects if not addressed," Simms writes. "While Republicans remain in good position to retain a strong majority in the House, that position is becoming increasingly precarious, due to a combination of a volatile national environment and the risk of a substantial spending gap in favor of Democrats. If left uncorrected, we could run the risk of facing substantial losses on November 8."
Ryan is in the midst of a breakneck cross-country tour designed to shore up vulnerable members. He's visiting 17 states and 42 cities from Texas to Florida to New York in the closing weeks and will campaign alongside House and Senate candidates -- tapping a donor network he cultivated and grew during his 2012 vice presidential campaign.