Optimism at RNC meeting, but chair says 2018 election 'is not going to be easy'

Steve Wynn steps down from RNC
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Washington (CNN)Republicans convening for their national party meeting in Washington this week struck notes of cautious optimism concerning the upcoming midterm election, even as forecasters expect a punishing year for the GOP.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel acknowledged Friday that the election "is not going to be easy," and noted historical instances of the party in power losing ground during a new president's first midterm election.
"Democrats are energized," McDaniel added, "and we need to outmatch them."
But committee leaders and state representatives remained upbeat about holding their majorities in Congress. Their outlook was buoyed in part by Republicans' successful push for tax reform late last year, as well as by record-breaking fundraising for the RNC.
    "We know the midterms are tough here, but we're in a great position for that," said Bob Paduchik, the RNC's co-chairman. "Every midterm cycle for an incumbent party's president is difficult, but we're going into this election cycle in the best possible position we can."
    The RNC met for its annual winter meeting following a tumultuous stretch for the committee, including the resignation last week of finance chair Steve Wynn, following a Wall Street Journal story that documented multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him. On Friday, the committee officially approved his replacement: Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team, whom McDaniel hailed as a choice of "the highest caliber."
    Fundraising has been a consistent bright spot for the committee, with the RNC announcing recently that it brought in $132.5 million last year -- a record for the committee in the year following a presidential election, and doubling the Democratic National Committee's fundraising on the year.
    "I've never seen money come like it is, I've never seen the organization like it is, and I think you see that acknowledged by the Democrats," said J.L. Spray, a national committeeman from Nebraska. "There's quite a contrast."
    Spray added, "I think this is going to be a good cycle, when it comes down to it.
    Traditional predictors of election outcomes point to a challenging year for Republicans. The GOP has consistently trailed Democrats on the generic ballot, and President Donald Trump's approval ratings remain low relative to previous presidents. Meanwhile, Democratic candidates have over-performed in recent elections, including the Virginia governor's race.
    Still, Republicans believe their successful tax reform push will pay political dividends in November, coupled with a booming economy.
    "Why would you ever want to vote that out?" said Michael McDonald, chairman of the Nevada Republican Party.
    One of the biggest drags on the GOP might be the leader of the party: Trump, whose approval ratings have stagnated in the mid-30s to low 40s in most public polling. His unpopularity poses a dilemma for some Republicans: to run with the President, or against him?
    But among the committee and its members, there remained robust support for the President and confidence in how his record so far will play during the midterms.
    "I think there's nothing to be afraid of in running for Trump if you focus on what's gotten done," said Robert Steele, a national committeeman from Michigan.