High Noon in Indiana: Cantor's Young Guns Shoot Conservative Candidate, Mourdock Fights Back

Indiana Republican Senate primary candidate Richard Mourdock called a recent Young Guns Action Fund-supported mail drop encouraging Democrats to vote in Indiana's open GOP primary a "strike at conservatism." 

"This race is about who's in touch with Hoosiers [and] for the heart and soul of the Republican Party," Mourdock told Breitbart News. He added: "These are the same out-of-touch Washingtonians who want to dictate to the people of Indiana when it comes to who gets elected."

Politico's Maggie Haberman broke the original news story that the Cantor-affiliated Young Guns Network had spent over $100,000 on the mail drop in support of Washington insider and likely loser, Sen. Richard Lugar. 

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol called it "meddling" in support of the "elderly RINO, "while pointing how other Republicans, like Indiana's Rep. Mike Pence, have remained neutral:

A GOP operative who's backing Mourdock emailed to say, "Weird that a group called the 'Young Guns' has endorsed Lugar--when he's not only been in Washington for 36 years but his opponent is endorsed by the NRA."

David Bossie, president of the conservative 501(c)4 organization Citizens United, said that the Young Guns'support of long-time incumbent Lugar raised important questions. 

"Do Young Guns donors know their donations are being used to support an old establishment dinosaur, who has spent decades as part of the liberal establishment?" asked Bossie.

The Young Guns Action Fund super PAC has also been known to support conservatives, as when it supported first-term Rep. Adam Kinzinger over Rep. Don Manzullo, a ten-term incumbent in Illinois, with approximately $50,000. Kinzinger won that race, which came about because of redistricting in the Democrat-controlled state legislature. 

Yet on that occasion, too, Cantor's intervention in a primary became a source of controversy--and a subject of speculation.

In Indiana, Politico's Haberman pointed out, the Young Guns mailer labeled Mourdock as "extreme." Former Cantor aide Brad Dayspring, now acting as senior adviser to Young Guns, passed off the "extreme" accusation as an ordinary part of a campaign focusing on energy and conservation issues--but no one in the base is likely to buy that spin. Dayspring emailed Politico the following rationale, pointing out that the Young Guns organization had used its 501c4, and not its Super PAC:

This week, the Young Guns Network launched our Energy and Conservation Policy Network to promote center right solutions for a smart long-term energy strategy coupled with strong environmental stewardship. With the Indiana primary approaching, it's a natural first playing field for the E&C effort, so the Young Guns Network will be active in several races including this and Messer for Congress in the 6th district.

Cantor, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) used the Young Guns brand to tout their rise to positions of influence, even launching a book: Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders. Their backing of 80-year-old, 36-year incumbent Lugar makes no sense, given the group's image. Lugar is hardly what conservatives across the nation have in mind when it comes to a new generation of leadership.

Last summer, in the debt ceiling negotiations, Cantor was seen by the conservative base as the bulwark against Speaker John Boehner's perceived willingness to compromise with President Barack Obama. Cantor's intervention in Indiana through Young Guns, however, may have squandered some of that goodwill.

The move has been widely reported, a well as discussed across many conservative blogs. It hasn't done anything to help Cantor's popularity with the GOP base. Finally, as the Standard's Kristol pointed out, if Lugar loses--as many expect he will--it may end up being nothing more than an embarrassment for Cantor in the end.


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