By Alexandra Jaffe - 02/12/13 12:40 AM EST
One of the nation’s most prominent Tea Party groups has launched a super-PAC that will challenge GOP strategist Karl Rove’s plan to wage primary warfare against other Republicans, opening a new front in the escalating fight between the establishment and grassroots factions of the GOP.
“He sounds like he’s challenging us, and we’re ready to rise to the challenge,” Jenny Beth Martin, founder of the Tea Party Patriots, told The Hill.
Martin’s group last week launched the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, a super-PAC that will be active in House and Senate races in 2014, largely through providing organizational support to help get out the conservative vote.
News of the Tea Party super-PAC arrived in Republican circles with substantially less fanfare than the attention lavished in recent weeks on Rove’s new Conservative Victory Project.
The CVP was created specifically to engage in primary races going into 2014 with the aim, Rove says, of backing “the most conservative candidate who can win.”
Rove and the group’s other founders say their super-PAC is a reflection of concern among Republicans that untested conservative candidates — like Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin — made it through primaries in 2012 only to lose what should have been easy pickup opportunities for the GOP.
“Some people think the best we can do is Todd Akin and [failed Indiana Senate candidate] Richard Mourdock — they’re wrong,” Rove told Fox News.
But several Tea Party-affiliated organizations blasted the CVP as an effort by the establishment to anoint candidates or protect incumbents against the will of grassroots Republicans.
Martin, in response to the Conservative Victory Project’s formation, charged in a statement that Rove “and the consultant class are pouring millions into picking off conservative leaders.”
While the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund is not a direct response to Rove’s PAC, Martin said it arose from bubbling frustration with the Republican establishment’s attempts to engage in primaries in 2012.
“What he’s doing, and the comments that he’s made about, in essence, deeming who he thinks is winnable — that’s part of what’s driven the Tea Party movement from the very beginning,” she said.
Martin hinted that the two PACs could clash in coming races.
“[Opposing Rove] wasn’t our sole intention, but if we’re forced to do that, we understand that our first battle is the Republican establishment, and we have to be able to convince them that fiscal responsibility is the right path forward for the Republican Party,” she said.
Given the harsh response to Rove’s group on the right, some Republicans believe the backlash could cause exactly the situation it was created to prevent — the emergence of untested, insurgent candidates winning GOP nominations with grassroots support.
Martin warned that the Tea Party Patriots super-PAC could support not just conservative Republicans, but also third-party candidates who come out in opposition to establishment picks.
“The supporters around the country are very dissatisfied with Republicans right now, and the calls for engagement with a third party are higher now than they’ve ever been,” she said.
While Martin hasn’t yet set a fundraising goal, she said that “listening to Karl Rove last week and hearing that he raised over $328 million has me rethinking all our goals. ”
Martin said she could try to raise a sum of similar magnitude for the TPP Citizens Fund.
The PAC is currently raising money online, and Martin said she’s reaching out to big donors weekly — though she hasn’t yet received assurances from any that they’ll back the PAC.
Martin said, however, that she believes the TPP Citizens Fund will be able to tap into donors looking for a grassroots group engaging in elections, rather than just issue advocacy.
“What we saw last election cycle and in 2010 is, a lot of larger donors wanted to donate to a lot of organizations doing direct political engagement. Because we were not, they were looking elsewhere,” she said.
The PAC could endorse candidates, Martin said — based on what local TPP organizers decide.
The group might also work to level the technological playing field when it comes to the organizational capacity of conservative candidates and will engage down to the precinct level in some of the 2014 races, she said.
Martin suggested the PAC could buy voter data geared toward specific races, much in the same way President Obama’s campaign relied on massive voter information databases to help get out the vote.
The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund has not yet solidified its plans for 2014, but Martin said she sees opportunities in Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina and Montana.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) recently announced he will retire at the end of his current term, opening up a seat that is likely to attract fierce competition for the Republican nomination.
Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) has already announced his intentions to run for the seat, but Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) is also interested and could find Tea Party support if he launches a bid.
In Iowa, Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D) decision to retire could create another test in the battle between establishment and grassroots groups in the 2014 cycle.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an outspoken lawmaker who has Tea Party support, is considering a run. The Rove-backed CVP has indicated King could be in its sights in 2014.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) might also face a primary challenge from the right. And in Montana, Martin said that Sen. Max Baucus (D) will be vulnerable because of his leadership on the president’s healthcare law.