DSCC - HOTLINE: NRSC Faces New Attacks Over Support

Hotline On Call: NRSC Faces New Attacks Over Support

Reid Wilson

December 15, 2009


Being endorsed by the NRSC is becoming akin to the mark of the beast, and conservative activists have found new reason to cry foul at Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) committee.

The NRSC has set up joint fundraising accounts with several candidates, generating attacks from others within the GOP who say DC should not be dictating who makes it through tough primaries. The committees, they say, show clear favoritism for one candidate over another.

In NH, an advisor to atty Ovide Lamontagne (R) blasted the NRSC for setting up a joint fundraising committee with ex-AG Kelly Ayotte (R). In CA, Assemb. Chuck DeVore (R) is getting help from conservative blog RedState over a similar account the NRSC set up with ex-HP CEO Carly Fiorina (R). And another joint account that will partially benefit KY Sec/State Trey Grayson (R) will anger backers of ophthamologist Rand Paul (R).

The NRSC has also set up joint committees with Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), ex-NV GOP chair Sue Lowden (R), Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), ex-Rep./ex-OMB dir. Rob Portman (R-OH) and ex-Rep. Pat Toomey (R-PA). All but Toomey have rivals in the GOP primary, but all except Lowden are front-runners by wide margins. Lowden has yet to lock down a healthy lead since entering her race.

These are the latest flare ups in an ongoing war between grassroots activists and the GOP's professional class. The NRSC has only explicitly endorsed 1 candidate -- FL Gov. Charlie Crist (R) -- but other candidates have fled from any notion of DC-based backing.

Establishing a joint fundraising committee does not legally bind the candidate and the NRSC in any way. The NRSC can, and has offered to, set up a joint committee with multiple candidates in the same race. In fact, in some ways, setting up a joint committee is better for the NRSC than for the candidate -- if an individual has maxed out to a candidate, their check to the joint committee will be directed to the NRSC, thanks to personal contribution limits.

The NRSC is not bound by any of the agreements to spend the money in certain states, either. The party has also set up joint accounts with Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and David Vitter (R-LA). Murkowski and Coburn are unlikely to face serious opposition next year, while Grassley and Vitter are running far ahead of their rivals.

But national GOPers clearly do favor some candidates over others. NRSC chair Cornyn and other top GOP senators held a fundraiser for Ayotte on 9/22; for Grayson 9/23; and for Fiorina 11/17. And the fact that the party has established the joint committees with those candidates and not with others suggests the NRSC is willing to work closely with them.

Since when is an endorsement something to be shunned? GOP sources and those in the blogosphere point to the NRSC's early endorsement of Crist, which they said was more than activists could stomach. Cornyn is no centrist, but backing Crist, who is disliked among most conservative activists in DC and FL, hurt his standing among the blogging class.

The joint accounts can help the non-establishment candidates too, according to one advisor to an outsider.

"If a candidate already is perceived as a creation of the DC Establishment, ... then becoming even more indebted to the DC powerbrokers by setting up a JFC is just going to energize the base for your anti-establishment opponent," the advisor wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, the NRCC, which spent hundreds of thousands of dollars backing liberal Assemb. Dede Scozzafava (R) in NY-23, has not taken the same punches as its Senate counterpart. After Scozzafava was forced out of the race by conservative activists, the NRCC spent weeks bolstering its outreach to conservatives in hopes of avoiding similar assaults.

Few have criticized the DSCC for similar intervention into their party's primary. The DSCC has joint accounts set up with Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Arlen Specter (D-PA), as well as with MO Sec/State Robin Carnahan (D). Only Bennet and Specter face primary challengers at the moment.