Centrist GOP senators not in rush to support challenger to Reid

Several GOP centrists are undecided about whether to donate to Sharron Angle, who told Senate Republicans on Tuesday that she represents a chance to get rid of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Angle, who won the Senate Republican nomination to take on Reid last week, made her pitch at a lunchtime meeting with the Republican Conference on Capitol Hill.  

The Tea Party favorite has drawn fire from Democrats for calling for the replacement of Medicare and Social Security with “free-market alternatives.” Angle has also called for big cuts in federal spending and endorsed getting rid of the Department of Education and giving more control to state and local governments.

 Centrist Senate Republicans say the party should have a big tent, but some are not quite ready to promise Angle any funding.

 Sen. Scott Brown, a centrist Republican from Massachusetts, said he doesn’t plan to campaign or donate to Angle.

“I’m not planning on getting involved in that race,” he told The Hill. “I’m just focusing on doing my job here.”

Brown offered the caveat that he and his team will be involved in “very few races.”

“I wish her well, but I’m really just focused on the business at hand right now.”

 Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who is not up for reelection this year, nonetheless said she had to focus on raising her own money.

 “I have to raise my money; I don’t have  leadership PAC [political action committee], so I have to be very careful of how I use my money,” said Snowe. “I have to be very protective.”

 Snowe emphasized that she opposed former President George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security in 2005.

 “I brought down the Finance Committee back in 2005,” said Snowe, referring to her opposition to radically changing Social Security’s system of guaranteed benefits.

 But Snowe said she would not impose any litmus test on Republican candidates who seek her support.

 “I expect we’re going to have one big tent,” said Snowe. She doesn’t expect to agree with Republican candidates on every issue before giving them funding.

 When asked whether she would donate to Angle, Sen. Susan Collins (R), another Maine centrist, stopped short of offering financial help: “She’s the nominee, so I will support her,” Collins said.

Collins and Brown also are not running for reelection this year.

Other Republicans were more explicit in saying they would donate to Angle.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), a member of the GOP leadership who is considered more centrist than many of his Republican colleagues, said he has already given $5,000 to Angle.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), facing a brutal primary fight, also said he would provide Angle with campaign donations.

 Angle will need a substantial infusion of cash from outside of Nevada if she is to compete with Reid, who reported $9.4 million in his campaign account in April. Angle reported $140,000 in her account as of May 19.

Labor unions are vowing to “pull out all the stops” in their support for Reid, who has pushed their legislative priorities since becoming majority leader in 2007.

 “It’s going to be a huge effort,” said a senior labor official. “He’s priority No. 1 for us. We’re going to pull out the stops to help Harry.”


Eddie Vale, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO, echoed that vow.

“Reid is in a tough reelection, but he has stood up for us on all sorts of stuff,” said Vale. “We’re going to pull out all the stops for him.”

 The AFL-CIO will concentrate its political spending this year in Nevada, California, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

 Angle won the GOP nomination in Nevada by running against the party establishment, defeating Sue Lowden, the former Nevada Republican Party chairwoman.

 Her anti-establishment stance helped attract dissatisfied conservative voters and the important endorsement of the Tea Party Express.

 Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Angle has a tough choice to make in her campaign.

 “Angle has to decide what Angle shows up in the general election, the one who foreswore the establishment and said she was the anti-establishment candidate or the one who sat today with the Senate Republican caucus and wants to take their help and money,” said Menendez.

 Menendez said Angle could not escape her controversial comments on Medicare and Social Security.

 Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who introduced Angle to Senate Republicans on Tuesday, defended her position on Social Security, which he noted many Republicans supported a few years ago.

 “She wants to save Social Security, keep it the same for seniors today and those who are going to retire, but for younger people allow them to do what all members of Congress are allowed to do, which is take some of our retirement and put it into stocks and bonds,” Ensign said.

 Ensign said Republican lawmakers were pleased with Angle.

 Democrats say they expect Republican strategists in Washington to attempt an overhaul of Angle’s public image. Angle has hired Prosper Group Corp., the political consulting firm that helped Brown win in Massachusetts earlier this year. Her website was under construction on Tuesday.

 So far, Angle has kept her distance from the national press. She refused to respond to questions from reporters when she left the Republican lunch and power-walked past a crowd of reporters who staked out the meeting.

 Angle has the support of the Club for Growth, a group that supports lower taxes and less federal regulation.

The Club spent $475,000 on independent expenditures on behalf of Angle during the primary. It also bundled $153,000 to her campaign, according to an official with the group.

David Keating, executive director of the Club, said he expected unions to pour millions into the state after they and their allies spent nearly $10 million to defeat Sen. Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic Senate primary in Arkansas.

Reid launched a television ad in the state last week touting his ability to deliver federal services and funding to help constituents.

American Crossroads, a conservative political group, launched television ads Monday that criticized Reid’s work to pass a $787 billion stimulus bill. The group noted that Nevada still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

“It’s going to be one of the premier Senate races in the country,” said Keating.