By Alexander Bolton - 01/09/10 06:13 PM EST
The National Republican Senatorial Committee will back Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) in his battle against the Club for Growth and conservative challengers.
But it is unlikely the Republican fundraising committee will spend much of its precious cash resources in a Republican primary for a Senate seat the GOP is all but certain to keep.
“The NRSC and Sen. Cornyn fully stand behind Sen. Bennett,” said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the committee.
Bennett is facing an attack from his right flank by several primary opponents, such as former congressional candidate Tim Bridgewater, attorney Mike Lee and activist Cherilyn Eagar.
The primary threat to Bennett became significantly more serious Friday when the Club for Growth announced that it would work to defeat the veteran senator. The group did not say which candidate it would support.
The Club for Growth nearly toppled another established Republican incumbent in 2004, when it took on Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). The prospect of another grueling primary challenge spurred Specter to switch to the Democratic Party last year.
The Senate Republican campaign committee has pledged it would stay neutral in open-seat Republican primaries this election year.
The committee is backing Bennett because he is an incumbent. In previous election cycles, it has backed centrist Republican incumbents such as Specter and former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.). (Chafee has also left the Republican Party and is running as an independent candidate for governor in Rhode Island.)
Supporting Bennett could subject the campaign committee to criticism from conservative activists, another reason why GOP officials may be hesitant to spend much money to protect him in a conservative primary.
Activists have criticized the NRSC and its chairman, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), over the past year for providing fundraising support to candidates in California, Kentucky and New Hampshire who are facing more conservative primary opponents.
Cornyn, who has set up joint fundraising committees with more-centrist candidates and has allowed them to use NRSC headquarters for events, said he would offer the same assistance to their primary rivals if requested.
Bennett’s campaign committee reported $791,000 in cash on hand at the end of September.
The NRSC has raised $37.1 million through the end of November. It reported $11.9 million in cash at that time.
But the committee has less money than its Democratic counterpart and analysts expect competitive races in more than a dozen states.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $40.2 million through Nov. 30. It reported $11.9 million in cash on hand.