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The moves not only declared the SCF’s independence but also allowed the group to accept contributions over the regular limits in order to boost Cruz with a $500,000 ad buy in the final weeks of his runoff against wealthy Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
In DeMint’s wake, the goal is for the SCF to be seen “as an organization driven by a mission rather than a personality,” Hoskins explained, by inspiring more senators to be involved in the decision-making and fundraising while simultaneously building on the group’s base of 115,000 donating members (who give an average contribution of $45), instead of being dependent on a handful of wealthy donors.
Even through the structural change, the SCF will keep much of its endorsement process intact. “We’ll interview candidates, research their records and seek input from respected conservatives inside and outside the Senate,” said Hoskins, who worked as DeMint’s chief of staff in the House and legislative director in the Senate. Hoskins first volunteered for the SCF when it began in 2008, then split time between the personal office and the PAC until he went to work full time for the group in 2011. The SCF staff also includes a finance director, administrator and Web developer to go along with vendors who produce direct mail and television ads.
To survive over the long term, the SCF will have to cultivate its grass-roots base, including continuing to solicit feedback from members during the endorsement process, and rely on other senators to help without being offered a prime spotlight.
“We’re confident others will step up to fill his shoes,” said Hoskins, who wouldn’t speculate on specific senators that will be involved. There is a group of GOP senators that look like a natural fit to help including Rubio, Paul, Cruz and Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, as well as DeMint’s replacement, Rep. Tim Scott.
But helping the SCF is not without risk, even though it elevated DeMint’s profile. “He took his licks from the Republican leadership who despised his efforts to shake up the Senate club,” according to Hoskins.
When DeMint’s standards put him at odds with establishment Republicans in Florida, Kentucky, Delaware and Colorado a couple of years ago and Republicans lost the latter pair, conservative groups received much of the blame.
Ultimately, the goal is to support “conservative candidates who can win,” Hoskins said. But there is also a tangential motive that despises the anointing of candidates. “We’ll also stand ready to back underdogs when the establishment plays favorites and works against viable conservatives.”
There is a degree of pragmatism in the SCF process. The group didn’t get involved in this year’s Missouri and Indiana Senate races until after Rep. Todd Akin and state Treasurer Richard E. Mourdock, respectively, secured the GOP nomination. The same thing happened with Republican Sharron Angle in Nevada in 2010.
But with or without DeMint, the rift between conservative groups, such as the SCF, and groups such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee isn’t going away anytime soon.
“I’ve learned that we just have to ignore the critics and push forward with the best candidates we can find,” Hoskins said.