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Conservatives threaten primaries against GOP leaders

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest

Congressional conservatives, angry at fellow Republicans who supported a "fiscal cliff" deal that raised taxes without cutting federal spending, have launched an online campaign bashing those lawmakers and are considering recruiting Republican primary challengers against the incumbents in 2014.

ForAmerica, a new group headed by conservative activist Brent Bozell, launched a Web ad campaign Wednesday against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who co-authored the fiscal cliff deal needed to avoid massive tax increases and across-the-board spending cuts from hitting at year's end.

The ad asks, "Mitch McConnell: Whose side are you on?" The spot will run in Kentucky, where McConnell is up for re-election next year. The ad also will appear on the Drudge Report and other popular websites.

It's the latest sign of discontent among conservatives, who nearly ousted House Speaker John Boehner last week, falling only a few votes shy of blocking his re-election as speaker on the opening day of Congress.

Bozell, in an interview with The Washington Examiner, said the ad is intended as a warning to incumbent Republicans ahead of the coming fight over the debt ceiling, which will again pit the spending reductions sought by the GOP against the tax revenue President Obama and Democrats want.

Bozell said Republicans who backed the fiscal cliff deal caved in to Democratic demands and betrayed their constituents.

"A whole lot of members of Congress have two strikes against them right now, and I'm waiting to see if it's going to be three strikes," Bozell said.

Thirty-three Senate Republicans and 85 House Republicans backed the fiscal cliff deal, and some could now face conservative challengers in the 2014 elections, Bozell said.

"We are looking at a whole series of races," Bozell said, declining to name lawmakers who could be targeted.

Among the vulnerable lawmakers is Rep. Kristi Noem, who won her seat in South Dakota in 2010 running as a Tea Party candidate and then voted for the cliff deal.

Noem defends her vote, saying it protected 99 percent of her constituents from a tax rate increase. But former state GOP Chairman Joel Rosenthal said Noem could face a primary fight from the state's Tea Party, whose members feel she betrayed them.

"I think the extreme right wing in our state are very unhappy about the vote and they will certainly be talking about providing a challenger," Rosenthal said.

Hogan Gidley, a top adviser to former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, said Republican lawmakers who backed the tax increase now must hold their ground in talks over the debt ceiling and spending cuts that will begin in coming weeks. Otherwise, "they are going to get taken to the cleaners," he said.

"The Republican primary voter is paying attention to this issue," Gidley said.

McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, is considered relatively safe because he is a longtime incumbent and influential in Kentucky politics. Though he faces the wrath of the Tea Party, the bigger threat to McDonnell may come from the left: Actress Ashley Judd is said to be seriously exploring a bid to become McConnell's Democratic challenger.

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner