A pro-Trump group going after a vulnerable Republican senator for his opposition to Obamacare repeal legislation has no plans to expand its offensive to other Republican holdouts.
America First Policies, a pro-Trump dark money group, has threatened a seven-figure blitz against Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, last week after he came out against the Senate’s repeal legislation.
But the group said on Monday that it has no plans to conduct similar campaigns against other tentative GOP opponents to the bill, which include some of the Senate’s most conservative members.
Instead, America First plans to go after Democrats, including some potential swing votes and other members from states that the GOP hopes to flip next year, spokeswoman Erin Montgomery told The Daily Beast.
The group will run cable television and digital ads in eight states starting on Tuesday. All of them—West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, North Dakota, Virginia, Missouri, Indiana, and Montana—have Democratic senators up for reelection next year.
The ads pick up on an emerging theme in Republican messaging: they capitalize on the unpopularity of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi—though she has nothing to do with, and no say in, the Senate process—who has come under fire even from members of her caucus who say that the San Francisco Democrat’s brand is toxic for the party’s prospects in contested heartland races.
“Nancy Pelosi and liberal obstructionists are opposing the repeal of Obamacare while Americans suffer,” declares the voiceover in one ad, targeting Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. “Call Senator Brown. Tell him stand with Ohio, not with Pelosi.”
America First also referenced Pelosi in TV ads against Jon Ossoff, an unsuccessful Democratic House candidate in a Georgia special election last week. Polling showed Pelosi was a political liability in the race.
America First is a 501(c)(4) non-profit, meaning it can’t spend a majority of its resources on political advocacy. But while the group is explicitly going after the opposition party—Montgomery noted that its new offensive represents “an expansion into the states with Democratic senators”—the language in the ads falls short of calling for a vote for or against a candidate for office, thus classifying them as “issue ads.”
The group’s targeting of Senate Democrats represents a reversion to a more traditional role for outside groups aligned with a president of one party or another. The announcement last week that it would go after Heller drew criticism from some GOP operatives, who complained that resources that should be used to cement the party’s majority might instead go towards beating up the only Senate Republican who faces a 2018 reelection race in a state carried by Hillary Clinton last year.
If America First’s Heller offensive was a shot across the bow for recalcitrant Senate Republicans, the group has for the time being decided not to escalate the partisan infighting. Montgomery said that reports it would go after other GOP critics of the Senate’s Obamacare repeal legislation—including conservative stalwarts Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz—were inaccurate.
But that doesn’t mean they are ignoring potential Republican defections.
The group has been running phone-banking operations in states represented by those three senators and others who have either come out in opposition to the Senate bill or must be kept in line in order to ensure its passage.
In addition to Cruz, Lee, and Paul, America First calling operations have targeted Republican senators including Ohio’s Rob Portman, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy, Maine’s Susan Collins, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Tennessee’s Bob Corker, and Iowa’s Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst.
“The message of the calls has been a generic, pro-Obamacare repeal message,” Montgomery said. “Senator so-and-so has an important voice in this debate… call him/her and tell them to work to repeal Obamacare.”
Those calling campaigns have been ongoing for “the last three weeks or so,” Montgomery said. But America First doesn’t appear to have assuaged concerns with the legislation among Senate Republicans representing a broad array of the party’s ideological spectrum.
Senate leadership rolled out some tweaks to the bill on Monday in an attempt to shore up GOP support. But just hours later, the Congressional Budget Office dropped its analysis of the proposal. The bill, CBO says, would result in 22 million more uninsured Americans.