NRSC girds for fight in contested primaries

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is ready to spend money in contested Senate primaries to make sure its favored candidates win, according to a senior committee staffer.

"Would we spend money in a primary? Yes, we would, if that's the right move at the right time," NRSC executive director Rob Collins told reporters Tuesday.

Senate Republicans have been hamstrung in past election cycles by flawed candidates and damaging primaries.

With signs there's some risk of that occurring again in top-targeted races this election, Collins made clear his committee won't be as hands-off as in past years.

"There are no rules. I treat every state differently. The path to getting a general election candidate who can win is the only thing we care about,” he said.

The comments are the latest sign the NRSC is willing to go toe-to-toe with conservative outside groups which have caused them headaches in past cycles.

Collins promised to defend incumbent GOP senators against organizations like the Senate Conservatives Fund, stressing the NRSC is “built to bring back incumbents” as well as win the majority.

The SCF has endorsed primary challengers to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.).

Collins suggested the NRSC may also play in open primaries.

When asked about Georgia’s crowded Senate field, where some Republicans have expressed concerns about Reps. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) and Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Collins hinted that was one state where the NRSC might get involved.

Broun and Gingrey both have repeatedly caused controversies with their comments: Broun has called evolution and the big bang theory "lies straight from the pit of hell" and routinely calls President Obama a socialist, while Gingrey called for classes to teach school children traditional roles for men and women.

Gingrey also recently complained about his six-figure salary during a closed-door meeting of House Republicans.

“We have our eyes on Georgia,” Collins said. “The trick about Georgia is finding and making sure that we have a good conservative candidate who can win.”

Collins also mentioned North Carolina and Alaska as states where he was keeping close tabs on the GOP primary.

In North Carolina, state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) is facing challenges from Tea Party candidate Greg Brannon (R) and evangelical leader Rev. Mark Harris (R).

In Alaska, former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan (R) recently jumped into a race that already included Alaska Lieutenant Gov. Mead Treadwell, who has struggled with fundraising, and Tea Party candidate Joe Miller.

Miller was the GOP’s nominee in 2010. He defeated incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary that year, but lost to her when she ran a write-in campaign in the general.

Collins downplayed concerns about other Republican primaries. He argued that Iowa’s crowded field of largely untested candidates would produce a better nominee than was otherwise possible.

He also added that he had no worries about Rep. Bill Cassidy’s (R-La.) primary opposition, calling the congressman an “awesome candidate.” The Senate Conservatives Fund has endorsed Cassidy’s conservative challenger, Rob Maness.

Collins made clear that he’d joined the NRSC to win Senate control, and would do whatever he could to avoid nominating flawed nominees like Republicans had in Missouri (Todd Akin) and Indiana (Richard Mourdock) last cycle and Colorado (Ken Buck), Delaware (Christine O’Donnell) and Nevada (Sharron Angle) the cycle before.

In 2010, outside groups helped some of those candidates defeat more establishment politicians backed by the NRSC in the GOP primary. In Delaware, O’Donnell defeated centrist Rep. Mike Castle in the primary, but lost the general election.

The NRSC took a hands-off approach to primaries in 2012, but “all options are on the table in every race [in 2014],” Collins said.

“Let me be clear about that — I’m not saying any one state. But this team didn’t get built, and everyone didn’t give up everything they gave up, to kind of win. We’re here to win.”

He said the NRSC was working to build relationships with all of its candidates, inviting them to training and working to keep in touch with them and their staffs — including those in contested primaries.

He said the group was working to be “seen as a trusted and neutral ally where we can be a neutral and trusted ally” by GOP candidates in contested primaries.

The NRSC had a four-day training session that 19 candidates attended in October that featured Lanhee Chen, Mitt Romney’s former top policy advisor, to help train them on federal issues.

Collins admitted the government shutdown hadn’t helped his party, but argued that President Obama’s sinking approval ratings, the country’s ongoing economic struggles and ObamaCare’s rocky rollout are creating a good atmosphere for the GOP.

“We have a challenge in front of us and we have to be candid about that,” he said of public polling showing the GOP brand taking a hit.