As Republicans prepare to take back the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been backing his candidates with millions. Given the opportunity to run for Majority Leader, McCarthy is ensuring his support for House Republicans across the nation. Republican Candidate Yesli Vega (VA-07) mentioned, “Leader McCarthy has worked very hard to unify our party and build a massive operation to take back the majority… He has earned my support in this effort.”
POLITICO: McCarthy mows down GOP detractors ahead of speaker bid — but the job isn’t done
Ally Mutnick, Olivia Beavers; September 12, 2022
HENNIKER, N.H. — Kevin McCarthy’s allies and like-minded groups have neutralized his potential detractors in GOP primaries across the country, wiping out dissenters who might derail his speakership bid next year and prove to be major headaches in Congress. Their final targets are on the ballot here Tuesday.
And some skeptics of the California Republican aren’t going quietly.
Outside spending in New Hampshire’s Republican House primaries on behalf of Matt Mowers, a former aide to Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Donald Trump, and Keene Mayor George Hansel, has enraged the other GOP contenders. As Mowers and Hansel get heavy support from outside PACs who feel they will be more formidable in the general election, conservative rivals are furious over what they allege is a leadership-backed campaign to help craft a GOP takeover and land McCarthy in the top role next year.
“This is coming from McCarthy,” charged Bob Burns, who is challenging Hansel in the Republican primary to take on Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster. (Donors to the group spending against Burns won’t be disclosed for another week at least, and there are no public links to the minority leader.)
“He’s dead to me at this point. I’m not going to support him,” Burns added, “And quite frankly if it boils down to it, I may run against him.”
While the PAC working against Burns remains a mystery, the minority leader and his partners have indeed worked — with great success — to shape the contours of a potential Republican House majority in 2023 with McCarthy at the helm. Before getting to the business of flipping Democratic seats, several groups have spent millions to defeat some of McCarthy’s biggest detractors in primaries from Virginia to Texas to Florida, and the California Republican has moved to win over some skeptical candidates who won GOP nominations.
The result: As the primary season ends on Tuesday, only a handful of Republican nominees in safe seats and battlegrounds have said they will oppose a McCarthy run for speaker, carving a clearer path for him to seize the gavel next Congress — even if the GOP’s potential majority is smaller than it once seemed it could be.
The final primaries in New Hampshire have drawn outsize attention and money from Republicans and Democrats hoping to influence who secures the GOP nominations.
The race to take on Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas grew particularly heated after the McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund went in to boost Mowers over his top competitor Karoline Leavitt, a Gen Z former Donald Trump communications official backed by House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The specter of McCarthy’s speakership dominated the closing remarks of a WMUR debate last week, when a third candidate noted “swamp rat Kevin McCarthy is spending $2 million” to elect Mowers and accused Leavitt of obfuscating her position on a potential vote for speaker.
Leavitt had once expressed support for McCarthy, but amid the ad barrage, she has since declined to say whether he would back him. She is also supported by House Freedom Caucus leaders and spent Thursday night at an American Legion post with Cruz, where both railed against Washington money infiltrating the airwaves.
“I am the only candidate in this race that the establishment is viciously attacking. They’re spending millions and millions of dollars to slow down my momentum,” Leavitt said when asked directly if she would vote for McCarthy. “I’m not beholden to anyone in D.C.”
Mowers, who was endorsed by McCarthy, offered a far more favorable answer when asked if he would support his run for speaker — though he also declined to say for certain: “He and I haven’t talked about it. I think he’s done a good job as minority leader,” Mowers said in an interview. “But we’ll have that conversation in due time.”
The New Hampshire battles have taken on added significance as the political environment has shifted. Few Republicans now expect to net the huge number of seats as they projected months ago, as Democratic voters — particularly women — appear increasingly motivated to vote following the Supreme Court’s ruling ending nationwide abortion rights.
The smaller the majority, the bigger the threat a small group of critics would pose for McCarthy in a simple majority vote for speaker. But the GOP leader has worked diligently to build up strength on his right flank since conservatives played a role in blocking him from rising to the role in 2015. While members like Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) have signaled opposition to McCarthy, former prominent critics like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have become loyal supporters.
And the number of candidates who have publicly voiced opposition to McCarthy appears to be dwindling.
McCarthy visited 25 states last month during August recess, where he met with roughly 50 candidates, according to Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), who is part of the House GOP campaign arm’s leadership team.
“I think he’s doing the same thing in October,” Armstrong said. “The engagement is constant.”
That includes taking time to win over candidates in safe seats.
McCarthy attended an event in Texas with Keith Self, the GOP nominee in an open Dallas seat. Describing the leader as “gracious,” Self said he had “not heard not heard a single peep about” someone looking to challenge McCarthy.
“He’s earned the right to lead the caucus — I’ll be supporting him,” said Andy Ogles, the Republican nominee in an open deep-red Tennessee district who said McCarthy’s team connected with him via conference call last week.
The Republican leader has made overtures to nominees that he or his aligned groups opposed in primaries. In August, McCarthy traveled to campaign with two of them: Ohio’s J.R. Majewski and Michigan’s John Gibbs, who ousted the pro-impeachment Rep. Peter Meijer in his primary.
Majewski, known for painting his lawn into a giant Trump shrine, had made an especially sharp turnaround.
Majewski said on video in late April that he believed McCarthy “did in fact conspire” with Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the anti-Trump congresswoman, declaring that “he and his minions can no longer be trusted.” Majewski vowed to do everything in his power to stop “the establishment” and “the insiders” from gaining the speakership, saying he would instead back “constitutional warriors” like Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).
Just a few months later, McCarthy joined Majewski in Ohio to aid his campaign against Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur — and the challenger struck a different tone.
“Leader McCarthy has been a great leader and partner in my race. He came to Ohio to campaign with me and I am grateful for it,” Majewski said in a statement to POLITICO. “He is working hard to win the majority and put a check on the reckless Biden/Kaptur agenda. That is exactly what our party needs.”
At least two more candidates who earlier this year sounded wary of backing McCarthy as speaker also reversed positions. Army veteran Erik Aadland, who is running for an open seat in Denver, said he was “concerned McCarthy may not be aggressive enough.”
Prince William County Supervisor Yesli Vega said firmly she would not back McCarthy on a radio show in April.
Both candidates, who are running for blue-leaning districts, walked back their previous comments when approached by POLITICO.
“Leader McCarthy has worked very hard to unify our party and build a massive operation to take back the majority,” Vega said in a statement. “He has earned my support in this effort.”
“I have come to know Leader McCarthy and to understand his plan to get America back on track,” Aadland said in a statement. “I fully support him becoming the next speaker of the House.”
When possible, though, McCarthy and establishment-aligned groups have tried to prevent problematic candidates from winning primaries.
McCarthy’s team and allies helped recruit or support some candidates in safe-seat primaries, including Wesley Hunt, Morgan Luttrell and Nathaniel Moran in Texas, Dale Strong in Alabama, and Aaron Bean and Cory Mills in Florida, according to campaign-finance reports and sources familiar with McCarthy’s operation. (Mills and Luttrell, in particular, faced opponents who were publicly opposed to McCarthy.)
Congressional Leadership Fund signaled its intentions in the first primary of the year, dropping nearly $600,000 on TV ads aiding Luttrell and blocking Republican Christian Collins — a far-right candidate who openly opposed McCarthy. The super PAC also boosted incumbents in California and Mississippi who faced challengers aligned with the House Freedom Caucus and who seemed likely to oppose McCarthy.
“Our prospects are excellent in the House because Republicans found star recruits and CLF engaged in a significant way to get the best candidates through primaries,” CLF President Dan Conston said in a statement. “It’s paying dividends in a year where candidate quality matters.”
Winning for Women Action Fund, an establishment group that supports female Republicans, also dove into races featuring anti-McCarthy candidates. Congressional Leadership Fund has been the group’s biggest funder in 2022, sending $1.8 million to the super PAC during primary season.
Winning for Women aided state Sen. Jen Kiggans over Jarome Bell (who vowed to vote against McCarthy) in Democrats’ most vulnerable seat in Virginia, and it backed Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) in her primary after she voted for Trump’s impeachment. Herrera Beutler lost to Joe Kent, an Army veteran who is perhaps the most outspoken candidate yet to publicly oppose McCarthy.
“I’ve gone out from the beginning and said that Kevin McCarthy can’t be our speaker,” Kent said in a July interview.
In the final stretch of the primary season, the GOP primary machinations have become harder to trace.
A new group, American Liberty Action PAC, has taken a leading role since forming in late July. It will not be required to disclose its donors until late September.
That PAC has spent some $3 million opposing three far-right candidates. In New York, it helped defeat Carl Paladino, an incendiary politician who has made racist comments and praised Adolf Hitler. In Florida, the group dropped over $1.3 million to stymie a congressional bid by state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, a far-right lawmaker endorsed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
“He is targeting anyone he thinks he can’t fully control, whether they vote for him or not,” Sabatini said of McCarthy in a text message.
Now, American Liberty Action PAC is running ads in New Hampshire to boost Hansel over Burns.
Hansel, who picked up significant crossover votes when he became mayor of the blue city of Keene, is backed by popular moderate GOP Gov. Chris Sununu and supports abortion rights and fighting climate change. (Democrats are worried enough about his candidacy that they are airing ads in the primary to boost Burns.)
“I’ve built up a base of support here and I can bring over the independents and Democrats,” Hansel said while greeting voters in a diner in Amherst, N.H. “I’m the only one that can win this district with this type of electorate.”
His speaker vote, he said, would go to the person who “puts me in the best position to deliver for my constituents” so he could get reelected in two years.
Burns, a longtime GOP activist in the state, is far more conservative. He opposes abortion rights and has yoked himself to Trump in a district that the former president lost by 9 points.
He said he believes McCarthy or his allies are behind the PAC boosting Hansel — and that he would not consider supporting the GOP leader if elected, even if McCarthy made overtures.
“I’m not going to just go along to get along with what everybody wants,” Burns said.