It's a bad time for Terri Lynn Land to visit Washington.
The Michigan Senate GOP candidate is attending a fundraiser in the nation's capital next week hosted by Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader and favorite punching bag of some prominent conservatives. Under normal circumstances, such an event — and the unofficial endorsement of the Republican establishment it brings — risks blowback from rank-and-file Republicans, but is common enough to be relatively unremarkable.
But this is an especially perilous time, even for a conflict as acrimonious as the one between GOP leaders and their base. The National Republican Senatorial Committee's decision to forgo a business relationship with Jamestown Associates, a GOP consulting firm, because of its work for the antiestablishment Senate Conservatives Fund has infuriated some conservatives. And their anger was compounded when the NRSC's executive director, Rob Collins, told reporters the Senate Republicans' political arm would work aggressively to ensure its favored candidates won their primaries.
Now, that anger could hurt candidates like Lynn who associated with McConnell and his allies. SCF's executive director, Matt Hoskins, declined to comment on Land or the Michigan race (the group has not endorsed her). But in an interview with National Journal Hotline, he issued a general warning to all Republican candidates.
"Now that the NRSC has publicly admitted that it will take sides in Republican primary elections, candidates will have to be extremely careful about their interaction with the Washington establishment," Hoskins said. "If they're not careful, the grass roots will perceive them to be too cozy with the Republican establishment. "
He added: "The grass roots are very sensitive to these things, and they can spot a RINO [Republican in name only] when they see one."
For Land, the controversy illustrates the difficult balance she must retain between the party's two wings. Michigan's twice-elected former secretary of state, she had positioned herself to the right of many Senate Republicans during the government shutdown. She signed a Senate Conservatives Fund pledge to defund the Affordable Care Act and opposed the vote to reopen the government and avoid breaching the debt-ceiling limit. In other words, she opposed the very deal engineered by McConnell.
But she has also become the Wolverine State GOP's presumed nominee in the open-seat race to replace retiring Sen. Carl Levin, in part because of her surprisingly strong fundraising — along with the $1 million of her own money she's kicked into her campaign — and the decision by a spate of potential rivals to pass on the contest. In doing so, she has received the imprimatur of the Republican establishment, led by McConnell, who is hosting the fundraiser at the NRSC along with 16 other GOP senators.
John Yob, a consultant for Land's campaign, says Land still believes voting to reopen the government was a mistake. But he declined to say McConnell made a mistake by supporting the last-minute deal.
"She's not going to get involved in any disagreement there," Yob said. "She's working very hard to unite factions of the party so she can win a contested election in a purple state."
Land isn't in any immediate danger: She doesn't face any conservative opposition for her party's nomination. And derision from groups like SCF doesn't guarantee any Senate candidate will struggle to win the party's nomination.
In any case, the conflict between the SCF and the NRSC rages on. Told of Hoskins's comment that Republican candidates shouldn't cozy up to the NRSC, committee spokesman Brad Dayspring directly criticized the political operative. Hoskins, he said, was "desperate."
"I don't know what he's talking about," Dayspring said. "I believe Matt Hoskins runs a business, and it benefits Matt Hoskins to see his own name in print."