Social conservatives target pro-gay marriage Republicans

Social conservatives are making a last-ditch effort to stop Republicans who support gay marriage, looking to torpedo their campaigns ahead of next month’s elections.

But they don't just have 2014 in their sights — they’re already turning one eye to 2016, with the goal of defeating pro-gay marriage Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanSenate votes to begin ObamaCare repeal debate GOP senators back Sessions after Trump attacks Senate GOP appears to have votes to win initial healthcare motion MORE (R-Ohio).

The National Organization for Marriage is making robocalls attacking a trio of socially liberal Republicans, including a pair of openly gay House candidates, California’s Carl DeMaio and Massachusetts’ Richard Tisei, plus Oregon Senate nominee Monica Wehby, who supports same-sex marriage.

The organization is also openly discussing ways to challenge Portman, who endorsed gay marriage last year, after his some came out as gay, either in his Senate reelection bid or if he runs for president.

The organization is aiming to stop socially liberal Republicans from winning office, even if that means electing Democrats who disagree with them on everything. What’s less clear is whether it could have much of an impact. 

“These three candidates, Carl DeMaio, Richard Tisei and Monica Wehby all stand against the party platform, and enough is enough. We've decided it's better to stand up and defeat Republicans who betrayed the party rather than walk lockstep for the party,” National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown told The Hill. “It's far more damaging long term to have Republicans like Carl DeMaio in Congress trying to in his own words ‘redefine’ the Republican Party rather than accept a bad Democrat like [Rep.] Scott Peters.”

The initial investments are small — just a few thousand dollars per race so far. But Brown says the group is aiming to reach $100,000 spent against each candidate before Election Day.

It’s unclear how much difference the organization can have in the socially liberal areas it’s targeting, especially since it failed to stop all three candidates from winning the GOP nominations in the first place. Tisei didn’t even face a primary, and both Wehby and DeMaio defeated socially conservative candidates who NOM had back, in their primaries.

The strategy itself might not have widespread support, even within the socially conservative movement.

The Family Research Council and Citizen Link joined NOM in firing off an angry letter to Republican leadership in late September saying they were going to push to stop the trio of candidates. 

But a leader with Family Research Council Action PAC said the group was “still in the decision-making process” about actively campaigning against the candidates.

“They put us in a very tough position, not just FRC but other groups like us. Do we help get a Republican elected who flew in the face of the section of the platform having to do with social issues? What do you do, and how much do you protest after you make your case?” said FRC Action PAC President Connie Mackey. “NOM has taken the next step. We're deciding whether or not to spend money on a protest. We're not there yet.”

But Brown is gearing up for a bigger fight in 2016 — one that could be even harder to achieve. He remains furious that Portman came out for same-sex marriage last year.

“Watch out. I think we'll defeat Portman in 2016. We're going to be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to defeat him in his election, definitely. I've not made any secret that once he endorsed same-sex marriage, we were going to do everything we could to defeat him,” he said. “We've got to get a candidate.”

There has been some rumbling about Portman running for president, in which case his gay marriage stance could hurt him in a competitive GOP primary in a place like Iowa or South Carolina.

“He's dead on arrival. It's not even debatable,” said Steve Deace, a popular Iowa conservative radio host. “He's the Jon Huntsman of 2016. Liberals in the media love him, and he'll get lots of interviews, but he's not going anywhere.”

But if Portman runs for reelection to the Senate, which seems more likely than a presidential bid, a serious primary challenge seems implausible. He scared off any primary challengers in 2010 with his fundraising skills, and he has millions in the bank already to ward off any serious foes.

“They have to have a candidate to defeat him,” Ohio Republican National Committeeman Bob Bennett told The Hill with a laugh. “No. I think that would be so highly unlikely as to be almost impossible.”

— This post was updated at 9:10 a.m.