GOP Moderates: Looking for Juice

Posted July 11, 2007 at 6:34pm

A key GOP fundraiser hopes moderate Republicans are mad as hell about the 2006 elections. She also hopes they work out their rage by writing checks.

Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, who left the Republican Main Street Partnership last month, said the number of moderate Republicans serving in Congress is dwindling because their supporters have not been active enough.

“The moderates in this country have to come out and be willing to fund moderate candidates and moderate organizations,” said Resnick, who now handles fundraising for the group’s political action committee.

Resnick’s replacement as executive director of Main Street is former Capitol Hill staffer John Billings.

Billings, who previously worked for Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and former Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) — both of whom are Main Street members — assumed Resnick’s old job in mid-June.

Bass became the group’s president Jan. 1.

Main Street’s PAC and a 527 group called Republicans Who Care plan to raise an unprecedented amount of money specifically for Republican candidates with more liberal views than the recent GOP majorities in Congress, Resnick said.

On its Web site, the Republican Main Street Partnership says its members believe in “fiscal responsibility and limited government.” Increasingly, however, “moderate” Republicans are defined by their views on social issues.

If voters who consider themselves Republicans but have grown uncomfortable with the national party’s agenda want to see the GOP move toward the center, they have to do more than bemoan the current state of affairs, Resnick said.

“They have to focus, fundraise and make changes if we want to make changes.”

They also need to volunteer, knock on doors, stuff envelopes and talk to their friends, she added.

Main Street and similar groups have been woefully underfunded compared to conservative PACs. The Club for Growth, in particular, has dumped millions of dollars into Congressional elections, usually for conservative Republicans squaring off with moderate Republicans during the primary.

“The primary tactic of the separate Club for Growth PAC is to provide financial support from Club members to viable pro-growth candidates to Congress, particularly in Republican primaries,” the group’s Web site states.

“Moderates have to get as engaged as the conservatives are,” Resnick said.

Republican Main Street allies need to counter the Club for Growth’s tactic by funding their candidates early and often, she said. The 2006 elections proved that.

Former Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) lost the Republican nomination last year to now-Rep. Tim Walberg, who received massive Club for Growth support.

Likewise, former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) largely blames the Club for Growth for his November loss to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

The Club for Growth engineered Stephen Laffey’s transformation from small-town mayor to Chafee’s worst nightmare.

“Lincoln Chafee had an extremely difficult situation,” Bass said.

“There’s unquestionably a tough road to hoe for Republicans right now,” he conceded. “But a lot of things are going to be different next year.”

Bass said Republicans of all stripes are realizing they need to be more supportive of moderates.

“The donor community understands that backing moderates is a good investment,” he said. “In a way, we represent the deepest threat to the Democrats.”

Resnick said the first test of moderate resolve will come Feb. 12, 2008, when Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (Md.) faces state Sen. Andrew Harris in the Republican primary.

Republicans Who Care, a 527 group that emerged last year to play a small role in some races, will become a major fundraising vehicle fueling the campaigns of moderates such as Gilchrest, Resnick said.

The Club for Growth largely financed Gilchrest’s 2002 Republican opponent; however, it has not endorsed Harris.

“We’re still looking at the race, said the club’s spokeswoman, Nachama Soloveichik.

Coincidentally, Soloveichik was Laffey’s campaign spokeswoman before joining the Club for Growth.

The Tuesday Group, a number of House Republican moderates who meet weekly, also is getting into the fundraising game.

Its members, most of whom also belong to the Republican Main Street Partnership, formed a PAC in May.

The Tuesday Group raised $48,000 in its first month. As of May 31, the Republican Main Street PAC had raised $180,000 for the year.

Considering the Club for Growth, through its various entities, said it raised $20.5 million in the previous cycle, Resnick knows she will need all the help she can get.