Main Street gears up to defend its own

Freshman Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) beat four Republican opponents to win his party’s nomination last cycle. He only has one GOP challenger this year, but his fight remains difficult.

Conservative Republicans have targeted the incumbent freshman for supporting a controversial measure to expand federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells as well as select votes on legislation affecting the economy.

Schwarz is the only sitting Republican House member to face a significant challenge from the right, but he is not the only centrist to face an uphill climb during this election cycle.

The Republican Main Street Partnership hopes to raise $1 million this cycle for its political action committee, the Main Street Individual Fund, most of which will be spent defending Schwarz and Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) from conservative challengers, a spokeswoman said.

Those two primary fights highlight a battle within the Republican Party on Capitol Hill over the direction of the party itself as the president and Congress continue to suffer sagging poll numbers. The fundraising fight is just one component of that overarching battle.

“It’s stupid and expensive to do this, especially with a president in the 30s,” said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, the executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership, referring to conservative groups, like the Club for Growth, that have not been shy in targeting incumbent Republicans.

The Club for Growth’s political action committee has recommended that its members give money to Schwarz’s opponent, former state Rep. Tim Walberg. In addition, the Club website states, “Joe Schwarz is a … LIBERAL” and devotes a page of “evidence” to support that point, including a list of votes Schwarz has cast.

“On a day-to-day basis, he’s a fiscal liberal,” said David Keating, the Club’s executive director, referring specifically to Schwarz’s rating by the National Taxpayers Union and the votes he cast against a bill to override a Supreme Court ruling on eminent domain and his support of labor-backed legislation to uphold prevailing wages in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Main Street members represent 14 of the 37 most difficult districts for Republicans to protect, according to the Cook Political Report’s chart of competitive House races. That list does not include Schwarz, who represents a predominantly Republican district, but it does include the open-seat races to replace retiring Reps. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) and Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.).

Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee recently announced their intention to step up their own fundraising efforts to be more active in these primaries. Their overall goal is to expand “the majority of the majority,” meaning they would like to see conservatives make up a larger percentage of the conference as a whole.

Centrists must now try to keep up with fundraising by the conservative wing of the party.

The Republican Main Street Partnership launched its own Retain Our Majority Program last spring to raise money for vulnerable centrists, including Schwarz and Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Rob Simmons (R-Conn.). Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group, said he expected the event to raise $25,000 for each of the four members, according to press reports at the time.

The Main Street PAC still has some distance to travel before realizing its goal for the cycle. It had raised $227,128 as of the end of February and had $99,980 on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics website. Of the money spent so far this cycle, the PAC has contributed $23,500 to eight House candidates, including $1,000 to Schwarz, and $9,000 to two incumbent senators, including $4,000 to Chafee.

Main Street expects to spend $500,000 on Schwarz this cycle and $1 million on Chafee, Chamberlain Resnick said. The group will spend whatever money remains after the Chafee and Schwarz races supporting other members in tough general-election fights.

Many of the vulnerable incumbents have used the advantage of their incumbency to outraise would-be challengers from either side of the political spectrum.

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) had over $2.1 million on hand after the December filing deadline, according to the nonpartisan campaign-finance tracker PoliticalMoneyLine. Of those Main Street members on the Cook Report list of vulnerable incumbents, Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) reported the least cash on hand, with $233,710.

The next filing deadline for individual candidates is at the end of this month, and fundraising activity has picked up considerably since the beginning of the year.

As of the December filing deadline, Schwarz had $366,301 in his campaign war chest, as compared to the $163,065 Walberg reported. In addition, three of the four Republicans who faced Schwarz last cycle have endorsed the incumbent — Walberg was his fourth challenger. The National Republican Congressional Committee almost always endorses incumbents in primaries and will stick by Schwarz this year.

The Michigan primary is Aug. 8.