GOP challenger seizes on outrage against Massie

Republican Todd McMurtry is seizing on Rep. Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieHouse holds first-ever proxy votes during pandemic House GOP lawmaker breaks with party to back proxy voting House adopts historic rules changes to allow remote voting MORE’s (R-Ky.) attempt to hold up a more than $2 trillion coronavirus relief package to lend momentum to his primary bid against the four-term congressman.

Massie, who represents Kentucky’s 4th District, tried to delay the relief bill on Friday as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle scrambled to get it through the House of Representatives and to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTwitter CEO: 'Not true' that removing Trump campaign video was illegal, as president has claimed Biden formally clinches Democratic presidential nomination Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters MORE’s desk.

The Kentucky congressman argued that he wanted a recorded vote on the package, saying that doing so would ensure that “our republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent.”

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House leaders from both parties shut down Massie’s efforts, and the legislation ultimately passed by a voice vote. Nevertheless, the maneuver prompted outrage among Republicans, including Trump, who dubbed Massie a “disaster for America” and called for the GOP to “throw Massie out” of the party.

McMurtry’s candidacy has now picked up steam in recent days, and he has ramped up attacks against Massie and won the endorsement of the Republican Jewish Coalition PAC, an influential group that rarely weighs in on primary races.

McMurtry, who launched his campaign in January, cast Massie as insufficiently loyal to Trump and his agenda, arguing that he would be a more reliably conservative vote in the House.

“At a time of unprecedented crisis in our country, Massie tried to make it all about him. We need a Congressman who will earn respect, build influence, and get things done for the Commonwealth of Kentucky and for our country,” McMurtry tweeted on Sunday. “It’s time for a change.”

Trump hasn’t yet weighed in on McMurtry’s candidacy. But multiple Republican strategists said that his castigation of Massie last week could sound the death knell for the congressman’s campaign, noting the president’s deep popularity in Kentucky and his massive 36-point victory over Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden: Probably '10 to 15 percent' of Americans 'are just not very good people' Mattis's Trump broadside underscores military tensions Mark Cuban says he's decided not to run for president MORE in Massie’s district in 2016.

“Trump is more popular today in Kentucky than he was in November 2016,” one GOP operative said. “That’s the power center here.”

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Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which supports GOP House incumbents, is staying out of the race. A spokesman for the group noted on Monday that the NRCC does not get involved in primaries.

Massie defended his tactics, telling Fox News’s Neil Cavuto in an interview on Saturday that by demanding a recorded vote, even amid the coronavirus outbreak, he was only seeking to force members of Congress to show up for work.

“It’s not constitutional to do any legislative business without at least half of the members of Congress present. And I also thought, if we’re going to pass the biggest spending bill in the history of mankind, that people should go on record for this.”

Massie’s procedural maneuver to slow the passage of the relief bill was not out of character for the libertarian-minded Kentucky Republican, who has built a reputation as something of a contrarian in the House.

That track record has won Massie the support of a handful of influential conservative groups like Club for Growth, which endorsed Massie’s reelection bid in February.

But Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican consultant and former campaign adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: US Park Police say 'tear gas' statements were 'mistake' | Trump to reopen area off New England coast for fishing | Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump juggles three crises ahead of November election Vulnerable Republicans embrace green issues in battle to save seats MORE (R-Ky.), said that Massie may have miscalculated the political costs of objecting to the quick passage of the relief package.

“Massie has always had a streak of contrarianism in him and most people have treated it as just kind of quirky,” Jennings said. “But that’s when the stakes aren’t so high. And right now, the stakes are high.”

That miscalculation may give McMurtry the break he needs to defeat Massie in the district’s June Republican primary, Jennings said.

“Massie had the advantage before this, because nothing had happened that was a true course correction. I’m not sure McMurtry would have been able to stick the landing,” Jennings said.

“But this obviously earth-shattering news event combined with Trump’s intervention has definitely given McMurtry the break that he needed to change the trajectory of the race. Now it’s on him to stick it.”

McMurtry built up something of a national profile last year as the lawyer representing Nicholas Sandmann, a student at Covington Catholic High School who found himself at the center of controversy over a confrontation with a Native American activist at the 2019 March for Life in Washington, D.C.

But there are still question marks hanging over McMurtry’s campaign. He remains a relatively unknown quantity within Kentucky’s 4th District, and it’s unclear whether he has the money to fund an aggressive push against Massie. He only launched his campaign in January, meaning that he won’t file his first financial report with the Federal Election Commission until April 15.

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At the same time, polling in the race has been scarce. A poll commissioned by Club for Growth last summer, before McMurtry ever launched his campaign, found Massie with the support of 50 percent of likely GOP primary voters in Kentucky’s 4th District, while only about 36 percent said they would consider a primary challenger.

Still, there are signs that Massie is taking McMurtry’s primary challenge seriously.

His campaign aired a television ad in South Florida in January, while Trump was staying at his Mar-a-Lago club, resurfacing past Facebook posts from McMurtry criticizing the president, including one in which he dubbed Trump “an idiot” and another describing him as “the epitome of a weak male.”

Speaking with Cavuto on Fox News over the weekend, Massie acknowledged the blowback he has faced in the wake of the Friday vote, saying that he feels “like a speed bump that’s been run over by 400 sets of tires.”

But he also insisted that his constituents supported his efforts to hold up the relief bill.

“When I get home, they really appreciate the fact that I stood up for the Constitution and I didn’t let these folks shirk their responsibility,” he said.