Centrist House Republicans establish Tuesday Group PAC

Centrist Republicans in the House, concerned about their dwindling ranks, have set up a new political action committee (PAC) to protect their seats and elect new lawmakers who share their ideology.

The new political fund, the Tuesday Group PAC, takes its name from a group of Republican centrists who meet weekly in the basement of the Capitol to discuss their policy priorities. The PAC, which held a fundraising event last week at the
Capitol Hill Club, raised $48,000 in May, its first month of fundraising.

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The creation of a fundraising organization devoted to centrist House Republicans reflects their unease heading into the 2008 election cycle. Centrist Republicans suffered heavy losses during the Democratic takeover.
Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), a member of the Tuesday Group, said the purpose of the new PAC is “to maintain the moderate wing of the party.”

“It’s very important to our party that we hang on to those that represent a point of view that’s important to the party,” said LaHood, who noted that centrists met with President Bush in May to share their concerns about the direction of the war in Iraq.

Former Republican Reps. Jim Leach (Iowa), Charlie Bass (N.H.), Nancy Johnson (Conn.), Rob Simmons (Conn.), Sue Kelly (N.Y.), Joe Schwarz (Mich.) and Michael Fitzpatrick (Pa.) lost reelection. Ex-Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (N.Y.), a leading House GOP centrist in the 109th Congress, retired. The Republican who ran to succeed him, Ray Meier, had a more conservative record and lost to Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.).

Voters angry over the Iraq war threw Johnson out of office even though she was chairwoman of the Ways and Means health subcommittee. Schwarz saw his congressional career end at the hands of a conservative challenger in Michigan’s Republican primary.

The fates of Johnson and Schwarz demonstrate what House GOP centrists know quite well: They face political threats from both the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), a longtime member and former co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, said lawmakers launched the PAC to help vulnerable centrists as well as liberal-leaning Republicans running for open congressional seats.

“You always want to increase your numbers or maintain them so that’s always a matter of some concern,” Castle said when asked about the declining number of House centrists.

“Any elected official is concerned about the next election,” he said. “With any of these moderates, that’s constantly an issue. You’re subject to attacks from the right and the left when you’re in the middle. It’s not approached by anything akin to alarm, but it’s genuine political concern.”

Castle is one of several GOP centrists the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has targeted for defeat in 2008.
Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Charlie Dent (Pa.), the co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, also have targets on their backs.

“We’re very optimistic about our chances of unseating Mark Kirk,” a Democratic strategist said. “He is one of the few Republicans to represent a district that [2004 Democratic presidential nominee John] Kerry [D-Mass.] won in 2004 and he had a really tough race last [election] cycle.”

Kirk won reelection with 53 percent of the vote last year.

“Kirk’s got to answer for his right-drifting views on a lot of issues, in particular his consistent rubber-stamping of the president’s policy in Iraq,” the Democratic strategist said.

Dent also won his race with only 53 percent of the vote. And while Bush narrowly carried his district, Democrats say that Pennsylvania has become increasingly hospitable to Democrats.

“Dent is another Republican that we believe we also have a real opportunity to unseat,” the Democratic strategist said. “Pennsylvania is going to be one of those states where Democratic turnout is going to be extremely high.”

Kirk and Dent did not respond to interview requests.

Other House Republican centrists rank among the Democrats’ top political targets. Reps. Heather Wilson (N.M.), James Walsh (N.Y.) and Jim Gerlach (Pa.) won reelection with just more than 50 percent of the vote in districts Kerry won.

“All of those are Republicans we believe we have an excellent chance to unseat next cycle,” the Democratic strategist said.
“All of them happen to be in areas of the country we believe are trending Democratic.”

The Tuesday Group PAC will complement the fundraising activities of another group committed to raising funds for centrist Republicans, the Republican Mainstreet Partnership PAC.

But while the Mainstreet Partnership PAC is allied with centrists in both the Senate and the House, the Tuesday Group is linked primarily to the House, said lawmakers familiar with the project.

The Mainstreet Partnership PAC raised $284,000 in 2006, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The creation of a second PAC would allow donors to double the size of their contributions to centrist Republicans. Donors may give only $5,000 to a PAC per calendar year. Instead of being limited to giving only $5,000 per year to the Mainstreet Partnership PAC, supporters of centrist Republicans can now give $10,000 divided between both PACs each year.