Senate Republicans are now open to spending money to help a preferred candidate through a competitive primary — a change from last cycle when the committee was under different leadership.
While briefing reporters Tuesday morning on the GOP’s path to winning control of the Senate, Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the NRSC will “do what we think gets us to a majority.”
“Would we spend money in primaries? Yes, if that’s the right move at the right time,” Collins said. “There’s no rules — I treat every state differently. The path to getting a general election candidate who can win is the only thing we care about.”
In a cycle where the GOP hopes to win back the Senate majority, the concern is that a flawed candidate could be nominated in an otherwise top pickup opportunity or a preferred candidate could be damaged for the general.
Both scenarios happened in the past two election cycles, when the NRSC opted not to spend much or anything on TV advertising during nomination battles. The decision to be mostly hands-off was a result of divisions within the party and the fear of backlash among the grass roots for appearing to strong-arm the process.
But now, conservative outside groups are already on the air against Republican incumbents and have pledged to play in primaries in states where the GOP is on offense.
That includes ads against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, where the NRSC is unlikely to have to spend on the well-funded incumbent's behalf, and Louisiana, where GOP Rep. Bill Cassidy is viewed by the NRSC as a strong candidate but at least one conservative group is rallying behind someone else.
“All options are on the table in every race,” Collins said. “Let me be clear about that — I’m not saying any one state. But this team didn’t get built, and everyone didn’t give up everything they gave up, to kind of win. We’re here to win.”
Lacking a similar party division, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee prides itself in rallying behind a single candidate and avoiding the kind of nasty primary fights that have hindered Republicans in recent years. Other than in Hawaii, a safe Democratic state, the party doesn’t have a single competitive primary.