The Latest Front in the Battle Between the GOP Establishment and Conservative Outside Groups

Michigan Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land walks a fine line between NRSC, Senate Conservatives Fund.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 03: U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) speaks to members of the media outside the West Wing of the White House after a meeting with President Barack Obama September 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Obama told reporters at the beginning of the meeting that he was confident he could get enough votes for his plan for military actions against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
National Journal
Alex Roarty
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Alex Roarty
Nov. 14, 2013, 2:09 p.m.

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.”

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