Adviser: Trump Blessed New Pence PAC

Vice President Mike Pence will prioritize raising money for vulnerable Republicans in the months ahead after his political action committee raised eyebrows by directing most of its 2017 contributions to safe incumbents running for re-election in friendly districts.

Pence plans to participate in a joint fundraising committee dubbed “Protect the House” with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; the National Republican Congressional Committee; and nearly two dozen endangered House Republicans specifically designated for extra resources.

Marty Obst, a Pence adviser who helps oversee the vice president’s leadership PAC, told the Washington Examiner on Monday that “Great America Committee will be investing in competitive incumbent races who have been supportive of the White House agenda, as well as key open seat and challenger campaigns [where] we feel the investment will make the greatest impact.”

Republicans worried about the November elections are counting on Pence to raise big money to defend battleground seats, in stark contrast to where Great America Committee invested last year.

In 2017, the vice president’s leadership PAC raised $1.8 million, according to its year-end filing with the Federal Election Commission. But it donated only $172,000 — and mostly to Republicans who will probably glide to re-election no matter how bad the midterm environment is for the GOP.

“That doesn’t seem like enough, especially in this environment where we have around 54 House incumbents that could use some money,” a Republican operative and former senior congressional aide said, in regard to how much Pence’s PAC donated in 2017 and where the contributions were directed.

Recipients of Great America Committee money included 25 House members, among them Freedom Caucus stalwarts like Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. Also benefitting from the first round of donations were Indiana congressional candidate Greg Pence, the vice president’s brother; and Trump ally, Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y. Each received two donations of $2,700 each, presumably for their primary and general election campaigns.

The PAC also contributed to a handful of Republican gubernatorial candidates, like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa. Other recipients include Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas; Ted Cruz of Texas; and David Perdue of Georgia; and Senate candidates, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa.

That initial roster caused some minor grumbling in some GOP circles. These Republicans aren’t threatened and don’t represent targeted districts. “Why are you writing so many checks to members who don’t even vote with us?” wondered one GOP insider, referring to some of the House Freedom Caucus members among the beneficiaries.

One possible answer: Pence wanted to reward Trump loyalists first. And just about every one of them, whether they vote with congressional Republican leaders or not, are close with the White House.

That is expected to change with the new JFC, “Protect the House,” and Pence’s upcoming campaign travel, detailed in part in an interview with Politico Playbook. Once the JFC is up and running, Pence and GOP leaders will be able to ask wealthy donors for large checks, with money distributed to the incumbents who need it most.

Many in this category participate in the NRCC’s “Patriot Program” for vulnerable incumbents. Some have periodically criticized Trump — his behavior, his policies, or both. All represent swing districts and seats that sided with Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the battle for the House majority could hinge on their withstanding anti-Trump headwinds.

This group includes, among others, Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, John Katko of New York, David Valadeo of California, David Young of Iowa, Scott Taylor of Virginia, and Rep. Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania.

Pence in the coming weeks is expected to raise money for Hurd and Reps. Andy Barr, R-Ky., and Don Bacon, R-Neb. Like Hurd, Barr and Bacon were set to be included in the “Protect the House” JFC. The vice president’s travel schedule was set to include trips to Cleveland; Dallas; Detroit; Naples, Fla.; and elsewhere.

“The vice president will be very active in traveling the country and campaigning on behalf of these candidates, in addition to directly supporting their efforts,” Obst said.

Pence launched Great America Committee last year to help Republicans raise money for an expected brutal midterm campaign, although some political insiders speculated that the vice president had motives relating to his own political future.

The PAC would help cover the cost of Pence’s travel, which can be considerable, and fill a hole left by Trump, who is less active as a fundraiser for individual candidates than were past Republican presidents.

Trump, a polarizing figure in many competitive districts, is of limited utility to targeted Republicans. However, Pence could be helpful, or at the very least, help them raise badly needed resources without causing political blowback. In one swing through California last fall with McCarthy, Pence helped raise $5 million for House Republicans.

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