Gonzales

Huelskamp’s Loss Could Embolden the Freedom Caucus

Group could back challengers against GOP incumbents in future primaries

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp's primary loss could be a turning point for the House Freedom Caucus, writes Nathan Gonzales. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s primary loss Tuesday night was widely viewed as the Republican establishment sending a message to the tea party.  

But even though the House Freedom Caucus  is losing a member next year, the Kansas result may have sparked more fighting in future GOP primaries.  

Physician Roger Marshall defeated the three-term congressman  56 to 44 percent.   

“It is generally accepted that leadership either looked the other way or, in some cases, encouraged independent expenditures in the race in order to defeat the sitting member of Congress,” said a source familiar with conversations among Freedom Caucus members about Huelskamp’s race before the votes were tallied. “If leadership’s strategy is successful, then it will have far-reaching consequences for the future.”  

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The race ended up being an expensive battle between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which backed Marshall) and the Club for Growth (which backed Huelskamp) and other outside groups.  

Up to this point, the Freedom Caucus (and its political arm, the House Freedom Fund) has intentionally not been involved in races against sitting members of Congress.  

For example, Rep. Robert Pittenger was locked in a competitive primary with Rev. Mark Harris in North Carolina’s 9th District, but the House Freedom Fund didn’t get involved.  

Pittenger won the race by 133 votes.  

Instead the Freedom Caucus has been involved in trying to support its own members such as Huelskamp, Virginia Rep. Dave Brat, and New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett, and open-seat candidates including Warren Davidson in Ohio, Ted Budd in North Carolina, Jim Banks in Indiana and Mike Crane in Georgia.  

But now, some Freedom Caucus members are feeling jaded enough for their fallen Kansas colleague to explore more aggressive options against establishment embers in the future.

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