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This used to be the purview of the Republican congressional campaign committees. But they rarely take overt action in primaries, believing that doing so would upset conservative activists and be counterproductive to the candidates they hope will emerge from the primaries. Since 2008, the national party seal of approval has served only to taint candidates as Washington insiders.
The moderate Republican Main Street Partnership is the most outspoken group in this cause.
Former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, who served as National Republican Congressional Committee chairman for two of his terms in Congress, currently runs the group, but outgoing Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio will take over in January. They have created a super PAC and expect to have a much larger presence this coming cycle.
Sarah Chamberlain, chief financial officer of Republican Main Street Partnership, stressed that the group’s super PAC would be used only to defend endorsed candidates from attacks and would not be employed to attack other Republicans.
“We cannot allow this to happen,” Chamberlain said. “Centrist wealthy individuals are ready to write checks.”
Another wealthy individual who might get involved is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent. His spokesman declined to comment on future plans for the mayor’s super PAC, Independence USA.
But the mayor invested millions in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign to support moderate candidates on both sides of the aisle, and Bloomberg aides made clear to The New York Times in October that more activity is likely in the future.
American Action Network is a center-right group also positioned to exert influence.
The group, founded by former Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., actually did play in two 2012 Senate primaries, with mixed results. It successfully helped Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, fight off a primary challenge from the right, but it failed in its attempt to save Sen. Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind. He lost his primary to state Treasurer Richard E. Mourdock, who proceeded to lose his Senate race to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly.
And when the Club for Growth and Senate Conservatives Fund were quick to criticize Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in November, after she announced her 2014 Senate candidacy, it was Karl Rove’s super PAC, American Crossroads, that issued a news release defending her.
The Capito criticism jump-started much of the discussion among GOP pragmatists over how to aid favored primary candidates in the next election. Establishment Republicans were shocked by how quickly the club and the Senate Conservatives Fund attacked Capito.
A Republican strategist in Washington noted that the two groups were faster to criticize Capito’s candidacy than the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has yet to weigh in.
“They’re not trying to learn any lessons,” the strategist said of the conservative activist groups. “They’re not trying to see what they can do better.”