By Michael Beckel and Reity O’Brien, the Center for Public Integrity
If Karl Rove was an NFL coach and not a political strategist, he would probably be looking for a new job about now.
Organizations co-founded by the GOP’s most effective fundraiser spent more than $175 million only to see President Barack Obama win a second term and Democrats actually gain seats in the U.S. Senate.
According to a Center for Public Integrity review of spending records, Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, went 3-10 during the 2012 election cycle, while Crossroads GPS, its nonprofit counterpart, went 7-17. The two groups, which were both active in a handful of contests, had a combined 9-21 record.
When asked by Fox News host Chris Wallace on Election Night if his groups’ spending was “worth it,” Rove was unapologetic: “Look, if groups like Crossroads were not active, this race would have been over a long time ago.”
Meanwhile, Jonathan Collegio, the spokesman for the two Crossroads organizations, has maintained that “sub-optimal candidate quality” contributed to Republican losses in the Senate and that his groups will bea “permanent entity on the center-right.”
“By leveling the financial playing field, conservative super PACs kept this race close and winnable all the way until the end,” Collegio told the Center for Public Integrity. “Our contributors are of course disappointed with the results, but satisfied with the impact we had.”
Democratic super PACs fared far better, especially Majority PAC, launched by former aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The organization had a 14-3 record.
House Majority PAC, a group focused on aiding House Democrats, also appears to have backed more winners than losers. Thirty-four of its preferred candidates won while 31 lost. Democrats are leading in five of six undecided contests where the group also invested money.
“If you look back to 2010, there were lots of races where Democrats were overwhelmed by outside money at the last minute,” said House Majority PAC spokesman Andy Stone. “We aimed to reduce the disparity in outside GOP money to outside Democratic money, and we cut it in half from 2010 to 2012.”
Zach Gorin, the spokesman of Majority PAC, stressed that it was important for Democrats to compete in the fundraising arms race against groups like American Crossroads andAmericans for Prosperity, which has ties to conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
“At the beginning of the cycle, the conventional wisdom was that Democrats would surely lose their majority in the Senate,” Gorin said. “But our growing financial momentum in the lead-up to November ensured that we would not only be able to compete with Karl Rove and the Koch brothers on the air in Democratic seats, but also bring the fight to them in red states, as well.”
The Democratic super PACs may have played a role, but they had an easier task than their Republican counterparts. Democratic candidates for Senate, for example, collectively outraised their Republican counterparts by more than $35 million in the seven most hotly contested races. A similar dynamic held true in the presidential contest, where Obama’s campaign outraised his Republican rival Mitt Romney by more than $240 million.
In addition, Republican Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana, which were expected to be Republican pickups, appear to have suffered from “sub-optimal” candidates, in Collegio’s words.
Rep. Todd Akin, the GOP Senate candidate in Missouri, saw his standing in the polls drop after he said women who were victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant.
Comments about rape also contributed to the defeat of Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock, who, during a late October debate, said that pregnancies resulting from rape shouldn’t be aborted because they were “something that God intended to happen.”
In addition to Indiana, Majority PAC’s 14 “wins” included victories in Montana and North Dakota, states where Obama lost the popular vote to Romney.
Super PACs and nonprofits, which proliferated after the controversial 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, are allowed to accept contributions of unlimited size from individuals, corporations and unions. This money can be used on advertisements, officially called “independent expenditures,” but spending cannot be coordinated with campaigns.
The scorecards of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee mirrored those of their aligned super PAC and nonprofit allies, even though they face limits on fundraising.
Party committees can only accept limited contributions from individuals and PACs, and while some of their spending can be coordinated, they also operate arms devoted strictly to independent expenditures.
The NRSC’s independent spending supported nine GOP Senate candidates, seven of whom lost on Election Night. Eleven of 13 candidates the DSCC made independent expenditures on behalf of won.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee had more mixed results.
The GOP managed to retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives though its advantage appears to have dropped by a handful of seats. As of press time, the Associated Press had still not called nine races.
“The money was not decisive in a lot of races,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Candidates matter too.”
Despite the Crossroads organizations not having “a very good record to point to,” Kondik says that Rove “still does have a lot of cachet on the right.”
Conservative attorney Dan Backer, too, predicts Rove is here to stay.
“Karl Rove is not retiring anytime soon,” Backer said.
Andrea Fuller contributed to this report.