Anti-Incumbent Super PAC Adds Jones, Moran to Target List

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 28, 2012 at 4:25pm

Updated 7:39 p.m. | The Campaign for Primary Accountability plans to launch spending crusades against Reps. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) as part of the super PAC’s growing list of targeted races.

The deep-pocketed super PAC also announced a “Watch List” of more than two dozen veteran Members whom it plans to evaluate and potentially target during the height of primary season during the next three months.

The Texas-based group aided in funding two successful campaigns to oust Members this cycle: GOP Reps. Jean Schmidt (Ohio) and Don Manzullo (Ill.), who lost primaries.

Next on the primary calendar, the super PAC will dump $200,000 each into TV ads against Pennsylvania Reps. Tim Murphy (R) and Tim Holden (D), who have their first significant primary challenges in recent memory on April 24. Former Senate aide Evan Feinberg challenged Murphy, and attorney Matthew Cartwright launched a well-funded primary campaign against Holden.

Now the Campaign for Primary Accountability will target Jones on May 8 in North Carolina and Moran on June 12 in Virginia. Navy veteran Bruce Shuttleworth is Moran’s little-known primary challenger, and retired police chief Frank Palombo will face Jones in the Republican race.

The group will also continue to target Democratic Reps. Silvestre Reyes and Eddie Bernice Johnson in Texas on May 29. Both have strong challengers who raised more money than the incumbents in the last quarter of 2011.

Meanwhile, the super PAC’s “Watch List” of House Members has grown longer, too, according to the collection of names given to Roll Call ahead of the official announcement.

“These are races we are currently watching among the one-party dominated House districts with veteran incumbents,” spokesman Curtis Ellis said. “We are evaluating these districts based upon the capability of the challengers and the level of voter dissatisfaction and may engage some or all of these races.”

The super PAC will consider picking a side in three upcoming primaries between two Democratic Members: Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steven Rothman in New Jersey, Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in California, and Reps. Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson, also in California.

Additionally, the super PAC plans to evaluate the following Members during April, May and June primaries:

• North Carolina: Howard Coble (R)

• New York: Nydia Velázquez (D), Edolphus Towns (D) and Charlie Rangel (D)

• Texas: Ralph Hall (R), Joe Barton (R), John Culberson (R), Kevin Brady (R), Mike Conaway (R), Lamar Smith (R), Kenny Marchant (R), Rubén Hinojosa (D) and Lloyd Doggett (D)

• California: Dan Lungren (R), Pete Stark (D), Jim Costa (D), Anna Eshoo (D), Adam Schiff (D), Gary Miller (R), Grace Napolitano (D), Henry Waxman (D), Joe Baca (D), Karen Bass (D), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D), Maxine Waters (D), John Campbell (R) and Brian Bilbray (R)

Since the start of the Congressional primary season, the super PAC has stumped many political operatives with its unique spending pattern. It’s highly unusual for a PAC to target candidates from both parties.

But the PAC only engages in safe districts with “entrenched incumbents” and a “credible challenger,” Ellis said.

The group only gets involved where polling indicates there’s voter dissatisfaction with the incumbent, he added. But given the record-low approval rating in Congress, that standard could apply to many House districts.

So far this cycle, the anti-incumbency group boasts a 33 percent success rate after playing in six primaries in Illinois, Ohio and Alabama.

Nonetheless, the group’s fat pockets and generous spending has drawn ire and trepidation from Members of both parties. The Campaign for Primary Accountability spent $223,000 to oust Manzullo, who lost last week to freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

“I abhor these super PACs,” Manzullo told Roll Call one week before he lost the primary. “These guys just sit out there putting millions of dollars of their own into a PAC, thinking they can influence the direction of America.”

The super PAC invested its largest sum in Manzullo’s race, but it has spent six figures in almost every other primary it has targeted this cycle. Curtis declined to divulge the group’s financial commitment to the races in Texas, North Carolina and Virginia and instead pointed to its previous spending as a guideline.

But if the group plans to continue its spending binge through the primary season, the super PAC’s wealthy donors will have to reach further into their pockets.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability reported $588,000 in cash on hand at the end of February, according to its monthly report filed with the Federal Election Commission. The group has spent $1.15 million so far this year.