A new super PAC seeks to bolster moderate Republicans in a number of House and Senate races where ultra-conservative groups are threatening to snap up Republican nominations.
The Defending Main Street PAC could target up to ten races including in Illinois, Maine, Michigan and West Virginia in the 2014 primary election cycle, setting itself up to fight far-right counterparts like the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund.
“We’re getting a lot of calls to not only defend but go in and defend a lot of center right candidates against a couple of incumbents in Michigan,” former Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-OH), who helped found the group, told TPM. “We haven’t made that decision yet because I have to sort out in my own head because the name of the thing is Defending Main Street and I’m basically criticizing people for sticking their nose in Republican primaries.”
So far the PAC, which is associated with the 19-year old Republican Main Street Partnership has already committed to defending Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) against tea party challenger Bryan Smith.
Defending Main Street PAC plans to raise $8 million in this election cycle; by contrast the Senate Conservatives Fund handled $12 million in 2012 and expects to raise even more this time around.
Main Street hasn’t made final decisions yet, but they’re looking at defending Rep. Rodney Davis’ (R-IL) seat, supporting two challengers against tea party incumbents in Michigan, and backing Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) in her Senate race. The Michigan House seats the group could go after are held by Reps. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI) and Justin Amash (R-MI); Main Street would back David Trott and Brian Ellis.
Defending Main Street wants to counter spending and attacks by ultra-conservative outside groups to support Republicans it considers pragmatic, but it may be an uphill battle. According to LaTourette, one big challenge is that Club For Growth, The Madison Project and the Senate Conservatives Fund already have grassroots infrastructure in place to parachute into a race and bolster a candidate.
“One of the problems that we have is that the conservative groups have been at it longer and not only do they have a database of donors but they can also put boots on the ground,” LaTourette said.
A former National Republican Senatorial Campaign official who now works as a GOP consultant to candidates on both the ultra-conservative and more mainstream sides of the GOP feuding said that there’s some benefit to a counterweight like Defending Main Street PAC.
“With the right funding sources a group like this can absolutely be very effective in pushing back against the efforts of Tea Party aligned groups,” the former NRSC official told TPM.Â ”If a member’s conservative purity is on trial there must be a message to counter the charges and highlight the positive aspects of his or her record.”
LaTourette continued that the group’s goal is not to destroy the conservative outside groups its seeking to counter but to deter them.
“The goal is to then engage in a dialogue with some of the well-heeled donors at the Club and Heritage Action and say ‘Well, wouldn’t your money be better well spent, if this is how you feel, electing more Republicans rather than canabalizing Republicans in primaries,” LaTourette said.
A peace agreement between the bickering wings of the GOP sounds nice but, as of now, seems unlikely.
“This is a liberal group funded by labor unions,” Senate Conservatives Fund executive director Matt Hoskins told TPM.
“I mean certainly there’s going to be an attempt on the far far right to vilify them,” Republican political consultant John Weaver, a veteran of John Huntsman’s and Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign told TPM. “But again I think it’s important for a group from the center-right has entered the fray.”
Defending Main Street PAC said that it won’t engage in high-profile races like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) challenge from tea partier Matt Bevin or Sen. Mike Enzi’s (R-WY) challenge from Liz Cheney.
The group’s focus is also mostly on the House. Defending Main Street is making an exception for Capito, a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), another member who is facing a possible primary challenge from the founder of a group strongly opposed to same-sex marriage (Collins supported the Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act).
LaTourette stressed that building the grassroots infrastructure would be a priority.
“Where the far right is eating our lunch is that they have the grassroots stuff and so we’re going to have to create some of that,” LaTourette added.