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Establishment GOP Looks to Arizona, Florida Primaries to Bolster Ranks

Super PAC targeting Freedom Caucus member Paul Gosar in Arizona

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., is being targeted in his primary at the end of this month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., is being targeted in his primary at the end of this month. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After defeating House Freedom Caucus member Tim Huelskamp last week, establishment Republicans are looking ahead to their next conservative targets. 

The goal is to have a House conference that cooperates with leadership. And primaries are the best way for establishment Republicans to eliminate troublemakers.

[Establishment-backed Republican Unseats House Freedom Caucus Member

Now that Huelskamp has been knocked off, the establishment’s sights are shifting to Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, another member of the House Freedom Caucus.

A group called Right Way Superpac has spent nearly $130,000 through Aug. 10 on mail and media opposing Gosar and supporting his primary opponent, pastor and city councilman Ray Strauss.

“Has Paul Gosar been in Washington too long?” a radio ad from Right Way asks. It hits Gosar for voting to “fund Obamacare and raise the debt ceiling” and for boycotting the Pope’s speech to Congress.

“Ray Strauss will work to protect the Second Amendment and introduce legislation to stop waste, fraud and abuse, secure the border and deport illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds, and allow us — instead of Washington — to control our access to water,” the minute-long ad says.

Establishment Republicans also have been looking to bolster their ranks by playing in open-seat primaries against potential House Freedom Caucus members. 

A similar group to Right Way Superpac, called Right Way Initiative, spent heavily in the primary to replace former speaker John A. Boehner in Ohio’s 8th District. 

“We need more constructive conservatives in Congress,” the narrator said in one of Right Way’s ads backing state Rep. Tim Derickson. 

Their efforts didn’t pay off in Ohio. Derickson ended up losing to businessman Warren Davidson, likely a future member of the same conservative crew responsible for Boehner’ departure. 

[Outsider Candidate Claims Boehner’s Old Seat]

Establishment Republicans had more success in last month’s runoff in Georgia’s open 3rd District, where former West Point mayor Drew Ferguson prevailed over state Sen. Michael Crane.

[Georgia Runoff Will Decide State’s Next Congressman]

It was a proxy war between more conservative voices like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Club for Growth and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan, all of whom backed Crane, and more establishment members of Congress, including Kevin McCarthy, who donated in large numbers to Ferguson.

The next open-seat showdown is in Florida’s 2nd District. Once again, Jordan and McCarthy are taking opposite sides in this primary.

McCarthy hosted a Capitol Hill fundraiser for Panama City doctor Neal Dunn earlier this summer, while the House Freedom Fund — the political arm of the Freedom Caucus — is backing attorney Mary Thomas. Jordan is scheduled to appear at several fundraisers with her in the district next week.  

[Will Republicans Have Fewer Women in the House Next Year?]

By electing Thomas, Republicans would have the rare opportunity to increase diversity within their conference by adding an Indian-American woman. 

But at least 11 members of Congress have sided with McCarthy in backing Dunn.

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