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Cole Hit for Stance on Primary Races

Several House Republicans are facing potentially competitive primary challenges next year, and most are none too pleased with National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) and his hands-off policy when it comes to defending incumbents who are threatened from within the GOP.

At least eight House Republicans have credible primary challengers thus far — with more likely to find themselves in a similar situation by early 2008. A few of the challengers have banked enough money to signal viability, and some knowledgeable Republicans say Cole’s policy could unnecessarily cost the House Republican Conference both seats and campaign cash.

“I for one would be screaming bloody murder, especially when the NRCC is asking us to raise money for the committee,” said one senior House Republican aide. “I believe there will be strong push back from certain Members regarding this policy.”

Cole, who said upon assuming control of the NRCC this cycle that he was not inclined to intervene in Republican primary contests, reiterated that position last week during his first formal news conference as the committee’s chairman, explaining that this position extends to GOP incumbents.

“There’s no hard and fast rule on protecting incumbents, but I’m inclined not to,” Cole said.

On Monday, the NRCC attempted to soften Cole’s position, noting that the committee as a matter of policy will not meet with any individual seeking to challenge a Republican incumbent. The committee also released to Roll Call a statement from Cole emphasizing what both he and the committee plan to do on behalf of incumbents.

Notably absent from Cole’s statement were offers of financial and field-operative assistance from the NRCC for incumbents facing primaries. However, Cole did say he plans to support some of these incumbents personally — a move that ultimately could be viewed as an indication of the NRCC’s preference depending on the race in question.

“The NRCC will continue to support our incumbents by offering incumbent services, technical assistance, political advice and by encouraging supporters to give to GOP Members who might have tough races,” Cole said in the statement. “On a personal level, I have and will continue to give to these Members financially through my leadership PAC and will hold fundraisers on their behalf.”

The four Congressional campaign committees tend to back their incumbents as a general rule and often are referred to as “incumbent protection programs.” But at the NRCC, Cole appears to be breaking with his recent predecessors, although he has not completely ruled out aiding an incumbent who is under fire from a fellow Republican.

The eight Members already dealing with this threat are Reps. Dan Burton (Ind.), Chris Cannon (Utah), Wayne Gilchrest (Md.), Ralph Hall (Texas), Walter Jones Jr. (N.C.), Ric Keller (Fla.), Ralph Regula (Ohio) and Jean Schmidt (Ohio).

Other Republicans who could join them in fending off primary challengers include Reps. Barbara Cubin (Wyo.), John Doolittle (Calif.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Rick Renzi (Ariz.) and Bill Sali (Idaho), to name a few.

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