November 3, 2016

Politico: The cavalry isn’t coming for Scott Garrett

For months, GOP Rep. Scott Garrett has endured wave after wave of Democratic attacks in his New Jersey district: TV ads, mailers, billboards, even an airplane trailing a banner calling him a bigot.
The Republican Party response: nothing.

While the NRCC and Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to House GOP leadership, have poured tens of million of dollars into House races across the country, they haven’t spent a penny to defend Garrett, who’s among the most endangered Republicans in the House. Now it seems clear that help isn’t coming.
The lack of national support isn’t entirely unexpected. Garrett, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, alienated many in his own party last year when he told colleagues that he wouldn’t pay his NRCC dues because the committee backs gay candidates. But it has infuriated Garrett’s conservative allies, who worry the NRCC’s inaction is putting Garrett’s seat in jeopardy.
“It’s surprising and disappointing,” said David McIntosh, the president of the Club for Growth, which has endorsed Garrett. “It means the political folks around Paul Ryan don’t get it.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Mick Mulvaney met with Paul Ryan in September to alert him to Garrett’s plight. Ryan responded by officially endorsing Garrett, but the NRCC has stayed on the sidelines.
“I think they concluded it wasn’t a battle they wanted to get into, because he is a conservative and a member of the Freedom Caucus,” said McIntosh. (The Club for Growth PAC, for its part, has bundled contribution for Garrett but hasn’t run TV ads, focusing instead on Senate races.)
The NRCC declined to comment.
But the NRCC’s other ad spending suggests it’s not just Garrett’s fiscally conservative views that have kept it out of the race. The committee has poured $1.4 million into defending GOP Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa, the only other Freedom Caucus member in a competitive race.
Congressional Leadership Fund, meanwhile, has taken its cues from the NRCC. “While we consider multiple factors in where to spend money, in general we aim to follow, not lead, on competitive Member races,” Emily Davis, a spokeswoman for the super PAC, wrote in an email.
Garrett’s district is one of only a small handful where the DCCC and House Majority PAC, the flagship Democratic House super PAC, are on the air and Republicans are not. (The NRCC has also declined to spend money in Florida defending Rep. David Jolly, who torpedoed his relationship with the committee when he participated in a “60 Minutes” segment about the fundraising pressure the parties place on their candidates.)
The DCCC and House Majority PAC have poured more than $3.1 million into attacking Garrett and supporting his Democratic challenger, Josh Gottheimer. The National Association of Realtors has spent $1.9 million more. Garrett, in contrast, has received little outside support aside from a $145,000 cable TV buy made back in September by Campaign for American Principles, a super PAC that supports socially conservative candidates.
Ali Lapp, who runs House Majority PAC, said she was surprised Republicans hadn’t invested to try to hold the seat. House Majority PAC didn’t make a big TV ad reservation early on, she added, to avoid provoking a Republican response.
“I like to think of it as sort of turning up the temperature on a pot of water,” Lapp said.
Garrett’s lack of air support has helped make the district, which leans Republican, a battleground in the final weeks of the race.
“It’s going down to the wire,” said Mike DuHaime, a longtime GOP operative in the state.
The race has grown increasingly heated in the final days. Gottheimer held a press conference on Wednesday accusing Garrett of being under a congressional ethics investigation. Garrett held a competing press conference a few miles away denying the charge and alleging that Gottheimer forged an Office of Congressional Ethics letter featured in one of his commercials, which Garrett said he was asking stations to pull from the air.
Garrett declined requests for an interview.
The NRCC’s silence on the airwaves is a stark contrast to Garrett’s first race in 2002, DuHaime said, when the committee poured money into electing him. But while Garrett’s position as chairman on the powerful Financial Services Committee won his Wall Street allies, he hasn’t done as good a job of maintaining goodwill in New Jersey.
“Congressman Garrett over the years has not always cultivated relationships in the district, even in his own party, and certainly not across party lines,” DuHaime said.
Still, Garrett might still have a slight edge on Tuesday, despite the money that’s flooded in to unseat him. The media market is so expensive that spending that might doom a congressman in Iowa could go almost unnoticed, DuHaime said. “$5 million doesn’t get you that far in New York.”