Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who is considering running for Senate in Georgia, drew the ire of conservatives this weekend when he indicated on Friday he may not have a problem with Karl Rove's super PAC pouring money into next year's Georgia Senate primary, presumably against some of Price's potential opponents on the right - like Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA).
When asked about Rove's newly-created super PAC, which conservatives believe was created to wage war against Tea Party candidates, playing in GOP primaries and attacking conservatives with a barrage of negative ads, Price, according to the National Review, "said he understood why that’s occasionally necessary."
"Republicans ought to be in the majority in the United States Senate. We have lost seats that we should not have lost because of a failure of communication, a failure of message, a failure of coherence within campaigns," Price said. "Now that’s not to slight anybody who steps up into the ring because it’s a tough, tough arena. But clearly, we can’t continue the same processes that we’ve had in the past and expect to increase our numbers in order to help save the country in the Senate."
The Senate Conservatives Fund, a group Jim DeMint started that supports conservative candidates, called Price's comments "a very disappointing statement from someone who claims to be a conservative."
The group, on Friday, also called Rove's group, "Conservative Victory Project," an "anti-conservative effort launched recently by the Republican establishment in Washington, DC to defeat grassroots conservatives."
The Senate Conservatives Fund also rightly noted that while Price said it would be exciting to join Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Mike Lee (R-UT) in the Senate, those senators would have been opposed by Rove's super PAC had it existed in 2010. Establishment Republicans also often tout the need to broaden the Republican base to include more minorities, but when Ted Cruz, a conservative who is of Hispanic descent, was challenging an establishment politician in the Texas Republican Senate primary in 2012, Rove and his allies did not support Cruz, who later won his race with the help of conservatives like Sarah Palin, who went to Texas to campaign for him.
"The Republican establishment is becoming increasingly hostile to the conservative movement and Congressman Price should openly and aggressively oppose their efforts, not defend them," the Senate Conservatives Fund wrote. "We hope our members in Georgia will talk some sense into Congressman Price because if he's going to side with the establishment on this, there's no reason for the grassroots to support his bid for the U.S. Senate."
When some conservatives wanted to oust House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) during the fiscal cliff negotiations last year, many Republicans expressed support for Price, though Price never decided to challenge the sitting Speaker.
Price has the early support of conservatives because of his voting record and where he has stood in the past on fiscal and social issues important to conservatives. For example, Price has a more conservative rating from The Madison Project than Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, who defeated him for Conference Chair. Price scores better than Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House Whip, and House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), as well on that index. Price similarly scored better than McMorris-Rodgers on Heritage Action for America's scorecard.
But Price may need help raising the money he will need to attack his opponents and win the crowded primary, which, in red states like Georgia, is essentially the general election since the Republican who emerges will most likely win statewide.
This is where establishment groups like Rove's step in, trying to co-opt even good conservatives by promising them potential support and air cover and, in so doing, casting doubt in the minds of conservatives and Tea Partiers about Price and whether he will continue to be a staunch conservative if elected to the Senate with Rove's help.
After learning of Price's comments on Sunday, a Georgia Republican, for instance, told Georgia Tipsheet, in a sentiment that could get amplified in the coming weeks, that Price is "smartly telling the establishment they have a friend in him.”
And conservative scholar and talk radio host Mark Levin wrote in a Facebook post that Price's comments indicate he must want "financial support" from Rove should he choose to run for Senate, and that Levin has "never been all that excited about Price."
"In my few dealings with the House, particularly during the battle against Obamacare, I've never considered him among the stand-out conservatives," Levin said. "Conservatives and Tea Party activists in Georgia beware."
According to a Harper Polling survey published on Friday, Broun leads the field of prospective Republican Senate candidates in Georgia, getting 19% in the poll. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) was second at 18%, followed by Price at 17% and Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), who also intends to run for Senate, at 13%. The poll found that Price, who has been known for his fiscal conservatism by spearheading bills like the Require a PLAN Act, led among "very conservative" voters with 25%, followed by Broun with 23%. Among "somewhat conservative" voters, Price led at 23%.