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Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, conceded that the appropriator moniker could be damaging. “The longer you’re here, the more votes you have, the more of your record you have to be able to defend. So it can be a factor, sure,” Walden said, noting that the party committee will not get involved in the Georgia primary. “You vote for the appropriations vote because you’re an appropriator. So it might add to it. But they’ve also been doing that in their districts for a long time.”
Running in a district and running statewide is a major distinction, however, and it’s clear that Kingston is crafting a defense to inoculate himself from just those kind of attacks. He said the Appropriations Committee has been the only panel to actually cut spending. And he noted that amendments from other members, such as Broun, may sound good on paper but do not become law.
“The difference in what an appropriator does and what somebody from the outside does is they may have an appearance of voting purity because a lot of what we do is not scored by outside rating groups,” Kingston said. “But the reality is a lot of what they’re doing is symbolic and doesn’t even pass the House floor.”
GOP Rep. Tom Latham, an Appropriations cardinal who briefly flirted with a Senate run in Iowa before demurring to what seemed like an inevitable run from Rep. Steve King, echoed Kingston’s defense. “As an appropriator we’re cutting spending, so that’s the most important thing,” he said.
Broun also brings up amendments that do not pass muster with most of his colleagues, though they often serve as bellwethers on the voting scorecards of conservative advocacy groups.
In the 112th Congress, Broun had the highest rating of any Georgia candidate with Heritage Action for America, a conservative grass-roots activist group, which gave him a 96 percent score. Kingston scored lowest, at 71 percent.
Ultimately, George primary voters will judge whose argument has more credence. Joel McElhannon, a Peach State political consultant who is not affiliated with any candidate, said Kingston is at a natural disadvantage, but money, advertising and outside group involvement will decide whether the attacks stick.
“Is spending and debt and the overall economy going to be the overwhelming issue in this race? Yes,” McElhannon said. “So Jack has something to overcome there. ... This issue of being an appropriator, of your track record of spending in your time in Congress ... that’s really going to come into focus in this race.”
There is evidence that Kingston may have some backup, though. Outside groups have pledged to counter attacks by candidates they perceive as too conservative to win a general election, as was the case last year with the disastrous Senate bids of ex-Rep. Todd Akin in Missouri and state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in Indiana.
The Republican Main Street Partnership works to elect center-right candidates to the House. Its president, former Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Ohio, said he can envision GOP strategist Karl Rove getting involved as well with his political action committee, American Crossroads.