February 2, 2013
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.
The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party, particularly in primary races.
“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” said Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, the “super PAC” creating the new project. “We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”
The effort would put a new twist on the Republican-vs.-Republican warfare that has consumed the party’s primary races in recent years. In effect, the establishment is taking steps to fight back against Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations that have wielded significant influence in backing candidates who ultimately lost seats to Democrats in the general election.
The first test of the group’s effort to influence primary races could come here in Iowa, where some Republicans are already worrying about who will run for the seat being vacated by Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat. It is the first open Senate seat in Iowa since 1974, and Republicans are fearful of squandering a rare opportunity.
The Conservative Victory Project, which is backed by Karl Rove and his allies who built American Crossroads into the largest Republican super PAC of the 2012 election cycle, will start by intensely vetting prospective contenders for Congressional races to try to weed out candidates who are seen as too flawed to win general elections.
The project is being waged with last year’s Senate contests in mind, particularly the one in Missouri, where Representative Todd Akin’s comment that “legitimate rape” rarely causes pregnancy rippled through races across the country. In Indiana, the Republican candidate, Richard E. Mourdock, lost a race after he said that when a woman became pregnant during a rape it was “something God intended.”
As Republicans rebuild from losing the White House race and seats in the House and Senate last year, party leaders and strategists are placing a heightened focus on taking control of the Senate next year. Republicans must pick up six seats to win a majority.
Representative Steve King, a six-term Iowa Republican, could be among the earliest targets of the Conservative Victory Project. He said he had not decided whether he would run for the Senate, but the leaders of the project in Washington are not waiting to try to steer him away from the race.
The group’s plans, which were outlined for the first time last week in an interview with Mr. Law, call for hard-edge campaign tactics, including television advertising, against candidates whom party leaders see as unelectable and a drag on the efforts to win the Senate. Mr. Law cited Iowa as an example and said Republicans could no longer be squeamish about intervening in primary fights.
“We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem,” Mr. Law said. “This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he’s said are going to be hung around his neck.”
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