Politics & Government

Conservative DC group throws money to McGrath’s opponent, 11 other Republicans

The political affiliate of a major conservative organization is charging into 12 House districts, seeking to insulate Republican candidates from a challenging national environment ahead of November’s midterm elections.

Heritage Action for America, the political arm of Washington’s Heritage Foundation, has selected a dozen races for investment, ranging from the Sixth District of Kentucky—where Rep. Andy Barr faces a serious challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath—to the Ninth District of North Carolina, a Charlotte-area open seat that is unexpectedly competitive this cycle.

The organization plans to spend at least $2.5 million, with the minimum investment in each district ranging between $200,000 and $400,000, Heritage Action officials told McClatchy, adding that they hope to be able to spend more.

“The way we picked candidates is, are they conservative? Can we make the case they’re conservative?” said Heritage Action Executive Director Tim Chapman. “Two, are they actually in trouble? Do they need our help? Three, how can they be a strategic ally for us in the future, when it comes to passing conservative legislation in the House?”

He added that they also are eying ways to defeat Democratic candidates who have particularly promising political futures. That is especially the case with McGrath, in Kentucky, and Conor Lamb, the Democrat who became something of a political celebrity after winning a strongly Republican Pennsylvania district in a special election earlier this year, but must run again in November in a new district, against GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus.

“It’s in our interests to stop these races early,” Chapman said, adding, “Conor Lamb could be a senatorial candidate. McGrath could be a senatorial candidate. We need to think about the big picture about all of this stuff and take that into consideration as well. We’d be there helping Barr anyway. That’s added incentive for us.”

He wasn’t calling McGrath “presidential material,” he said, but continued, “I do look back at when Barack Obama was running for Senate. He could have been stopped were it not for some significant failures on the part of the Republican nominee. If he’d been stopped, the entire trajectory of the country could have been different.”

To aid their chosen candidates, the organization is planning a three-pronged campaign in the 12 selected districts, set to launch the second week of September, after Labor Day. It will include three to five pieces of direct mail, an online advertising effort, and TV ad buys either on Fox News or on broadcast television, all pushing pro-tax reform messaging and aiming to offer specifics on how individuals and families benefit from the tax legislation passed by the GOP Congress.

Their endorsees fall into “a couple buckets,” Chapman said. There are the “strong allies,” such as conservative Reps. Dave Brat of Virginia and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. There are “potentially new members of a coalition in the House” including Jay Webber, running in an open seat in New Jersey, and former pastor Mark Harris, the Republican nominee in North Carolina’s Ninth District, who is running against Democratic Marine veteran Dan McCready.

And the organization is looking at “where is the left going all-in?” He pointed to districts including Rep. Ted Budd’s in North Carolina, and Rep. Ann Wagner’s in Missouri, two places where Heritage Action will be mobilizing.

Heritage Action’s significant involvement in the midterms is new (their decision to engage in the midterms at all was first reported by the Wall Street Journal; their decisions regarding investments are being reported for the first time by McClatchy). And certainly, $2.5 million is less than what other entities—say, the GOP House leadership-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund—spend on a single special election, much less the whole fall campaign.

But Chapman said that their involvement should be considered more significant than the dollar figure alone suggests, because their name brand resonates with the many conservative activists Heritage has cultivated over the years.

“What we’re telling donors is, every dollar we raise over our budget we can effectively pour more into these races,” he said, adding, “we feel really strongly that the dollars we spend, we’ll punch above our weight, because we have a brand name.”

He added that if this new effort is successful, he would expect the organization to ramp up their political involvement headed into the next campaign cycle.

“If we are able to make a difference and this is a good, positive experience for us this fall, I think we end up doing more in the 2020 cycle,” he said. “We’d have to raise significantly more to get involved in the Senate and presidential, but I’m not ruling it out.”

Here is the list of the candidates Heritage Action plans to support:

  • Rep. Dave Brat, VA-07

  • Rep. Scott Perry, running in PA-10

  • Rep. Steve Chabot, OH-01

  • Rep. Keith Rothfus, running in PA-17

  • Rep. Ted Budd, NC-13

  • Rep. Ann Wagner, MO-02

  • Rep. Rod Blum, IA-01

  • Rep. Andy Barr, KY-06

  • Rep. Mike Bishop, MI-08

  • GOP candidate Mark Harris, NC-09

  • GOP candidate Yvette Herrell, NM-02

  • GOP candidate Jay Webber, NJ-11

Kristin Roberts, Executive Editor of McClatchy's Washington Bureau, describes McClatchy's ambitious multi-platform approach to covering the 2018 midterm elections across the country.

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