Primary problem hits Senate GOP leaders close to home

Updated
.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)(R) watches as John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks to the press on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 14, 2012....
.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)(R) watches as John Cornyn (R-TX) speaks to the press on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 14, 2012....
UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS

Republicans are walking off a tough election season loss, and Karl Rove, “the brains” behind the GOP establishment, is trying to sweep up the pieces.

American Crossroads president Steven Law, who is behind a Republican effort to solve the party’s primary problem by campaigning against less electable candidates, has already identified Iowa Rep. Steve King as a potential target. But the Senate race for Iowa’s open seat is hardly the only one where a challenge from the right could put a potentially more electable candidate in jeopardy.

The top two Republicans in the Senate, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, don’t just have a future Senate majority to worry about. They are both up for re-election in 2014 in states which have shown a willingness to jettison establishment picks for further-right insurgent candidates.

In 2010 in Kentucky, Tea Party-backed Rand Paul, supported by then-Sen. Jim DeMint and the Senate Conservatives Fund, beat Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who was the establishment’s choice and a protégé of Mitch McConnell. In 2012 in Texas, tea party-backed Ted Cruz, supported by the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth, beat Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, also backed by the establishment. At the time, Cornyn was at the helm of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which declared itself neutral in primary contests.

Both Paul and Cruz were competing for safe Republican seats, and handily won their general election contests. They are now junior senators to McConnell and Cornyn, and neither has formally endorsed their Senate counterpart, though that may still happen.

McConnell and Cornyn have cast votes to protect themselves from any prospective challenge from the right. Both voted against the House-passed deal to extend the debt limit for three months. Cornyn was also one of three senators to vote against John Kerry’s confirmation in the full Senate. He said early on he does not intend to support Chuck Hagel’s nomination.

Law’s effort, the Conservative Victory Project, is operating as a super PAC, separate from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. But that hasn’t stopped conservatives who are unhappy with the effort from seeing it as an inside job. Law worked for McConnell for a decade, first as an intern, then as a campaign manager and chief of staff. He has attributed his success partly to McConnell, saying, “Most of what I’ve learned about politics I learned from him.” He is also close to Rob Collins, the new executive director of the NRSC, and former president of the American Action Network. Some see McConnell’s hand in both efforts.

When the Senate Conservatives Fund responded to Law in a statement, the group described the effort as a project “run by Steven Law, the former Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell,” though Law has not held that title in nearly 15 years. They continued, “The Conservative Defeat Project is yet another example of the Republican establishment’s hostility toward its conservative base…”

Other conservative outlets are firing back as well. Red State’s Eric Erickson wrote on Monday, “”Thank God they [American Crossroads] are behind this. In 2012, they spent hundreds of millions of rich donors’ money and had jack to show for it.” And the Club for Growth told Politico, “They are welcome to support the likes of Arlen Specter, Charlie Crist and David Dewhurst. We will continue to proudly support the likes of Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.”

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Primary problem hits Senate GOP leaders close to home

Updated