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Some Washington-based Republican operatives are hoping that Cruz’s role includes quashing primary challenges to the establishment favorite in states where candidates perceived as more conservative could have difficulty defeating a Democrat in the general election. The open seat in West Virginia is a prime example. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is viewed by top Republicans in Washington and the Mountain State as the GOP’s best general election candidate, but some tea-party-aligned groups have already announced their opposition.
But that type of heavy-handed intervention is not what the NRSC and Senate GOP leaders expect of Cruz, a Republican Senate aide said — never mind that it is unlikely he would embrace such tactics given his political history. What they hope Cruz does is help send a message to the conservative grass roots that the NRSC is listening and wants a relationship with them in an effort to avoid divisive primaries that have sunk GOP prospects in winnable seats.
Many Republicans believe the GOP Conference would number 50, as opposed to 45, had the NRSC and tea-party-aligned groups cooperated effectively in 2010 and 2012 to nominate electable conservatives in divisive primaries. The GOP Senate aide said the NRSC made mistakes in 2010, when it failed to recognize the star power of candidates such as now-Sen. Marco Rubio and instead backed then-GOP Gov. Charlie Crist in the Florida primary, but the campaign arm then overcorrected in 2012, when it took a completely hands-off approach to contested primaries.
A Republican senator familiar with the strategy behind tapping Cruz said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wanted to create a “greater sense of inclusion” between the Senate GOP establishment and conservatives, both within the conference and among grass-roots voters. Additionally, this senator said, Cruz’s particular political experience and national following with tea party voters “adds value.”
McConnell and Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, the top ranking Republican leaders, are up for re-election next year. Tea party groups have made noise about recruiting against both men in primaries, although neither is currently viewed as likely to face a challenge of consequence. Still, they aren’t taking their races for granted, that much is clear.