Is this the start of a kinder, gentler American Crossroads? The GOP super PAC's new North Carolina ad, unveiled Tuesday, is yet another positive message aimed at boosting the de-facto establishment primary candidate, Thom Tillis (R) "“ a week after Crossroads ran a smiley-faced spot for Dan Sullivan (R) in Alaska. The ads suggest the Karl Rove-backed group is trying a softer approach to its oft-stated mission of making sure the party avoids nominees who could cost it Senate seats.
-- The ad is as notable for what's not included (criticisms of Tillis's conservative opponents) as what is. The thinking seems to be that heavy-handed attacks are ripe to elicit backlash from conservative activists, the type of reaction that could cost votes for Tillis or Sullivan. The vast majority of super PAC ads are negative, but Crossroads is treading lightly even while getting involved in primaries.
-- Notice how calibrated the Tar Heel State spot is for a Republican audience: It attacks Sen. Kay Hagan (D) and President Obama first, as if to establish conservative bona fides, and mentions voter ID twice. Don't expect Republicans to tout the state's new voting rules aggressively when the general election rolls around, for fear of motivating Hagan's liberal base.
-- The reported million-dollar buy for Crossroads highlights the group's dramatically scaled back ambition for this year's Republican primaries "“ just a year ago its leaders were beating their chests about aggressively playing in intra-party battles. (Remember the Conservative Victory Project?) But North Carolina insiders say the ad is a welcome boost toward Tillis's goal of reaching 40% of the vote in May and avoiding a primary run-off. Crossroads might be diminished, but it can still be an essential ally to some Republican candidates.
Where Crossroads goes from here remains to be seen "“ officials there declined to say what, if any, Republican primaries it would spend money in next. If Crossroads does involve itself in, say, Georgia or Iowa, however, expect not a clenched fist to opponents, but an extended hand to its allies.
-- Alex Roarty