Republicans Promise Scott Brown Challenge
A Republican organization that backed Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) with independent expenditures and fundraising assistance says it will work to defeat Brown in a Republican primary next year in order to protect the party's brand.
Scott Wheeler, who heads the National Republican Trust PAC, said the group never expected Brown to toe a consistently conservative line, given his home state. But Brown's vote for the New START Treaty with Russia in late 2010 was a bridge too far, Wheeler said.
"We believe the Democrats' policies are destroying the country. Why let them take a Republican vote with them? If we're not going to have at least a symbolic vote against some of this garbage, then let's make the Democrats take the blame for it. It's their policies," Wheeler said in a Friday interview. "I say, no more Republican hostages."
The PAC spent about $95,000 on independent expenditure ads on Brown's behalf in the run-up to the January 2010 special election. That's a fraction of the amount other groups, like the Republican and Democratic senatorial committees, spent on the race. And the National Republican Trust isn't a major financial powerhouse; it raised $1.1 million through late November 2010, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission, and spent $1.4 million on elections.
But the PAC has a national network of donors, and Wheeler promised he would use the committee's resources against Brown.
"We're going to finance a primary opponent," he said. "I might even ask him to give our money back."
While Brown would be under no obligation to pay for an independent expenditure, the threat of a primary challenge can't make him happy. Brown will already have a difficult general election campaign, given the Bay State's liberal nature and the roster of Democrats lining up to challenge him, and spending any time placating a Republican base won't help his chances.
Still, recent surveys show Brown is one of the most popular politicians in the state. The $7 million he has in the bank already will give him a leg up, as well.
Wheeler openly acknowledges that trying to elect a more conservative Republican is likely to cost the GOP the seat. But, he says, the damage done by Brown's votes hurt more than holding the seat helps.
"We understand, coming from Massachusetts, he isn't going to vote on a lot of issues the way we'd like. We understand that. But if he's not going to vote for any issue, what's the point of having him? Why not have a Democrat there?" Wheeler asked. "That way we don't have the name Republican being used as a shield when the Democratic ruinous policies blow up."
Wheeler has promised to use his PAC to derail other centrist members, most notably those who voted in favor of the stimulus bill. He claims credit for forcing former Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) out of the Republican primary in 2010, and he says Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) is next. Snowe "doubled down" by also voting for New START, Wheeler said.
No credible Republican has stepped forward to take on either Brown or Snowe. Wheeler said he would be making a trip to the northeast soon, in order to identify and recruit candidates.