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Super PAC Prepares to Spend $200K Each Against Holden, Murphy

A maverick Super PAC with the sole mission of taking out incumbents of either party has set its sights on Reps. Tim Holden and Tim Murphy, and is preparing to spend around $200K in each district to defeat them in the April 24 primary.

It will consist of, “full spectrum warfare,” said Curtis Ellis, spokesman for the Campaign for Primary Accountability. That will to include television, mail, and online advertising. He said the $200,000 range was a reasonable estimate for what the the PAC will spend against each incumbent.

Why those two? Ellis says it’s a combination of factors. The PAC looks at safe districts, where the incumbent accepts significant PAC funds, polling shows vulnerability, an a credible challenger is running.

“Our surveys and research show that they have lost touch with the values of their districts,” he said. “Some members of Congress serve their district and not DC interest groups and PACs. These two have chosen the latter route.”

PA-17: Tim Holden

Regarding Holden, Ellis cited the rationale of Blue America PAC, a national progressive group that entered the 17th district race Monday. That group cited Holden’s support for Marcellus shale drilling and the Halliburton loophole in the Clean Drinking Water Act that exempted hydraulic fracturing practices from some oversight.

It echoes criticism of Matt Cartwright, the Lackawanna County attorney challenging Holden in the Democratic primary. Per election rules, they are forbidden from coordinating with the PAC.

“It’s less about us,” said Cartwright campaign manager Shane Seaver of the PAC’s plans. “It’s more about Mr. Holden and his record.”

He cited the Halliburton loophole.

“[Holden]’s taken in a boatload of money from energy, oil and gas companies. I don’t think you can say that’s a coincidence.”

Seaver said he has heard of two separate polls conducted by the PAC in the 17th district.

Holden, a former Schuylkill County Sheriff, has served in Congress for 18 years – longer than any other member of the Pa. delegation.

“I have no idea why a group of Texas oil billionaires plans to help Matt Cartwright, but it’s another example of the rich helping the rich,” said Holden campaign manager Eric Nagy, referring to PAC’s primary funders.

Regarding charges that Holden’s votes have been harmful to the environment, Nagy said that was misleading, and reiterated that jobs are the top issue.

“Historically, Northeast Pa. is coal country. It’s meant a lot to the region in the form of jobs and the economy. Many people here get their energy from coal. Tim Holden has been an advocate for clean coal.”

$200,000 could alter the funding balance in the race. Before each campaign began airing television ads, Holden had about $750,000 to Cartwright’s $600,000.

The Republican candidate is Laureen Cummings, a nurse and co-founder of the Scranton Tea Party.

PA-18: Tim Murphy

In the opposite corner of the state, the PAC is targeting Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny), who is serving his 10th year in Congress. What’s their beef with him?

“He’s a corporatist,” said Ellis. “He very reliably represents the PACs and corporate interests and interests of Washington rather than his district.”

Murphy’s conservative primary challenger Evan Feinberg, a former staffer to Sens. Tom Coburn and Rand Paul, hasn’t shied away from criticizing Murphy for his establishment ties. But he said the PAC’s plans don’t affect his.

“I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing from day one: knocking on doors and sharing my positive vision for our nation’s future: more jobs, less taxes and less government,” he said.

“Their involvement should also debunk Murphy’s electability argument: their decision is based on Murphy’s high-negatives in a district that’s a safe Republican seat.”

Murphy’s campaign dismissed the news, and emphasized that the Congressman is focused on the district.

“We trust that Congressman Murphy’s constituents strongly support his work on repealing Obamacare, saving the 911th Air Lift Wing, keeping the EPA from shutting down Southwestern Pennsylvania energy and growing jobs in our local manufacturing base,” said James Genovese, his campaign manager.

The funding race is more lopsided in this race; Murphy ended 2011 with $1,040,000 on hand to Feinberg’s $40,000.

The Democratic candidate is Larry Maggi, Washington County Commissioner.

Campaign for Primary Accountability

The group is unusual for its practice of targeting incumbents of both parties. The idea is to change the game in Washington, Ellis said.

“The problems in Washington are endemic to both parties. Gerrymandering has created one-party fiefdoms, the pillars of support of the entire Washington power structure,” he said.

He said safe incumbents are free to fundraise for party committees, which in turn affects outcomes in competitive districts. The Campaign for Primary Accountability is trying to even the odds for challengers in safe districts.

And they’re well-funded. Reports the Washington Post:

Group leaders said they will target numerous incumbents — and they appear to have the power to do it. At the end of January, the super PAC had collected nearly $1.9 million, according to reports with the Federal Election Commission, and $1.6 million of that came from just four mega-donors who wrote six-figure checks. [Founder Leo Linbeck III], who works for his father’s company and has others of his own, has given at least $775,000.

The group’s track record this cycle is enough to give any incumbent pause: they’re 2 for 6.

They spent $200,000 to run ads (watch below) against Ohio Congresswoman Jean Schmidt earlier this month; she lost her Republican primary. They also successfully supported freshman Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger over 19-year incumbent Rep. Donald Manzullo in an Illinois redistricting showdown.

The group spent similar sums against Reps. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), Jo Bonner (R-AL), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), each of whom won his or her primary.

The PAC had initially also planned to target Rep. Bob Brady (D-Phila), but changed their plans when his primary challenger dropped from the race.

Here’s their ad against Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt:

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