As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce identifies its targets for the 2016 congressional cycle, Kansas representative Tim Huelskamp and other House Freedom Caucus members may well find themselves in the group’s crosshairs.
According to sources familiar with its internal deliberations, the Chamber has discussed Huelskamp as a “prime target” for unseating. That the group may be laying the groundwork for a challenge several months in advance of the GOP primary in Kansas’s first district is one sign of a restive GOP establishment looking to strike back.
“The Chamber is going to spend most of its money protecting incumbents like Martha Roby,” one source says. “But getting Huelskamp out . . . is important.”
Huelskamp has drawn the ire of the Chamber and its allies as a consistent and vocal adversary of House leadership, raising eyebrows among many when, upon John Boehner’s resignation, he tweeted, “Today the establishment lost.” And there’s another reason he’s an attractive target for the group: One of his two primary challengers — Roger Marshall, an OB-GYN from Great Bend — has emerged as a credible threat, outraising him over the last two quarters.
“Huelskamp was almost taken out by a virtual nobody in 2014,” says another source familiar with the talks. “The Chamber is going to capitalize now that his challenger is strong.”
The Chamber has not officially endorsed Marshall’s candidacy, and when asked whether the Chamber had reached out to Marshall directly, one Kansas GOP operative close to the Marshall campaign is coy. “There are a lot of folks interested in this race,” the operative says. “It’s been fascinating to watch the support pour in for Roger.”
#share#The chatter comes as the Freedom Caucus quietly attempts to fill the coffers of its own super PAC — the House Freedom Fund — in an effort to protect members in danger of losing their seats. Led by Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows, the group’s fundraising efforts have been consolidated and sharpened in response to a variety of attacks on conservatives, including the Chamber’s hard-fought, ultimately unsuccessful attempt to unseat Freedom Caucus member Justin Amash in 2014. More recently, Huelskamp himself has been at odds with Ted Cruz’s campaign manager, Jeff Roe, whose firm Axiom Strategies tried to unseat him last cycle.
Other than failing to oust Amash, the Chamber was largely successful in the 2014 midterms, defending Thad Cochran in Mississippi and Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, and unseating Kerry Bentivolio in Michigan’s 11th district. According to one Freedom Caucus member, the group is intent on corralling support to ensure that Huelskamp survives as Amash did. “It depends on how much money we can get, obviously, but I wouldn’t count us out,” the member says. “There’s a market out there for what we’re selling.”
#related#The Chamber has long been considered one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, but if the blistering pace at which the Freedom Caucus has gained influence in less than year is any indication, they may prove a worthy opponent. At first glance, the groups’ mobilization would seem to signal a renewal of the internecine warfare that has wracked the GOP for the past few years: a caucus that draws its support, influence, and ideology from the grassroots up against a century-old K Street firm whose leadership ties are tight. But in Huelskamp’s race in particular, loyalties appear more muddled, yielding the possibility of an unusual alliance between tea-party-favored firms such as Axiom and establishment heavyweights such as the Chamber.
Chamber senior political strategist Scott Reed emphasizes that the group has made no official moves, chalking up the talk of a Huelskamp attack to “chatter.”
“We’ll deal with politics when the filing deadline passes. It’s way too early to make any final decisions on that,” Reed says. “Marshall is an impressive candidate, but let’s see who really files and who really runs. We don’t want to go down this rabbit trail yet.”
— Elaina Plott is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.