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Eric Cantor Uses ‘Real Bullets’ in Primary Endorsement

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

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House Republicans might not like the idea of one of their leaders picking favorites in Member-vs.-Member primaries, but at least for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, his backing of a winner in the Illinois GOP primary decision has only solidified his power base.

In the wake of Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s victory over Rep. Don Manzullo on Tuesday — winning 56 percent to 44 percent — Congressional observers note that despite some short-term gripes directed at Cantor, in the long run, his effort in Illinois could pay off for his own ambitions. It also poses a threat to outside groups who jealously guard their own status as kingmakers.

“It’s about, ‘Alright, I want to be a successful Speaker, and I’m going to lay it down now over a long period of years and be in a very strong position,’” one GOP lawmaker said.

The lawmaker also said Cantor’s move further indicates “he’s playing with real bullets and he has the capacity to affect outcomes. Is that such a bad thing?”

Cantor has made recruiting young, conservative candidates a top priority and helped bring dozens of them to Congress during the 2010 cycle.

“Eric is the only member of leadership to endorse a presidential candidate that I’m aware of, and so I wasn’t shocked,” Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) said. “Not because of who was in the race, but because Eric tends to make his opinions known. He will err on that side rather than keeping it quiet.”

The YG Action Fund super PAC — run by a former Cantor aide — spent $52,000 on a radio ad boosting Kinzinger, the freshman who ran against the 10-term Manzullo and whom Cantor personally endorsed.

Cantor’s move did not go unnoticed, particularly among conservatives who have caused their own stir in GOP primaries. On Wednesday, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola warned House leaders not to show favoritism in the Arizona primary between GOP Reps. David Schweikert and Ben Quayle. In a letter, the former Indiana Congressman cited the Illinois primary and called for neutrality in Arizona.

“Should it become apparent that you are choosing sides on behalf of Rep. Quayle, the Club for Growth PAC will consider it necessary to intervene on behalf of Rep. Schweikert,” Chocola wrote. “As is our practice, if the Club’s PAC entered this primary, it is highly likely that our 75,000 members would donate considerably more funds to Rep. Schweikert’s campaign than the Republican House leadership would contribute to Rep. Quayle’s campaign.”

The club letter was the most visible sign of unrest Wednesday, in addition to grumblings from some rank-and-file Members. Other Republicans said Manzullo’s demands for Cantor’s resignation and claims of widespread unrest over his endorsement produced headlines but predicted no big drop-off for Cantor.

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