By JACK TORRY
The Columbus Dispatch
A group of moderate Republicans, including three former U.S. House members from Ohio, want to raise $8 million to defend Republican candidates next year facing primary challenges from tea-party or other conservative candidates.
The new Super Political Action Committee, headed by former Republican congressman Steve LaTourette of Bainbridge Township in northeastern Ohio, plans to air TV commercials and barrage voters with direct-mail appeals in as many as a dozen key House GOP primaries across the country.
In addition to LaTourette, members of the “super-PAC” include former Republican House members Deborah Pryce of Upper Arlington and David Hobson of Springfield. All three were congressional allies of House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester in southwestern Ohio, although LaTourette insisted that his group has not discussed its plan with the speaker.
“Our intention is keep it positive; but if attacked, we won’t be shrinking violets,” LaTourette said.
It is yet another sign that Republicans are headed toward a major intra-party fight between the more traditional, moderate wing and the staunchly conservative wing, which championed a partial shutdown of the federal government in an effort to de-fund the 2010 health-care law signed by President Barack Obama. The effort collapsed last week as Republican approval ratings tumbled in the polls.
In particular, the super-PAC is aiming its fire against three arch-conservative organizations in Washington - The Club for Growth, Freedom Works and Heritage Action - which have campaigned against Republicans unwilling to hew to the agenda of the tea party and its allies.
“We’ve been behind the curve,” LaTourette said. “We have operated as Republicans obeying Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment, where we don’t speak ill of Republicans. We were a little taken aback and overwhelmed by these groups who have come in and decided who is a good Republican and who is a bad Republican.”
LaTourette did not say whether his organization will be involved in Ohio congressional races, but he said his group will help Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who is being challenged by a conservative lawyer, Bryan Smith.
In a clear dig against Republicans who raised questions about where Obama was born, LaTourette said his group has one litmus test for candidates: If asked whether they “believe President Obama was born in the United States, if they answer yes, we’ll help them.”
Republicans allied with the tea party have argued that conservatives keep losing national elections because the party is not conservative enough. But LaTourette countered by saying, “It is very difficult to win national elections when you write off women, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans and gay Americans. These are all groups we have lost.”
Hobson, who as a lawmaker earned a reputation for steering federal dollars back to his district, said people who “email me or I run into are concerned about the future of the country and the Republican Party” because they fear that some of the more right-wing conservatives do not want to govern.
“They just want to crash and burn,” Hobson said. “I watch the rhetoric of some of these people, and it doesn’t look like they want to govern. They just want to be angry.”
The new super-PAC is associated with the Main Street Partnership, a Washington organization headed by LaTourette that argues for a less-confrontational approach and more compromise.
While the super-PAC can spend as much money as it wants in individual races, the Main Street Partnership also has a political-action committee that can donate $10,000 apiece to candidates it favors.