Behind the scenes, GOP campaign officials are urging donors to fund mainstream groups to counter the conservative outfits. These officials are doing so even as they question the right-flank's ultimate effectiveness, given that its groups, although vocal, typically have far less money compared with other organizations standing with Republicans from the establishment wing.
The most powerful Republican allies from the last election — mainstream Republican groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Crossroads and its sister organization Crossroads GPS — poured more than $212 million combined into the 2012 election. Combined, the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and the Senate Conservatives Fund spent $21 million.
National GOP officials are watching for signs of rifts among the right-leaning groups, which could dilute their power. The shutdown debate itself exposed at least one disagreement.
The Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America defiantly insisted that any deal to end the shutdown and raise the nation's debt ceiling must dismantle or delay Obama's health care law. Lawmakers who didn't stand them with them risked inviting primary challenges.
But some tea party allies like Americans for Prosperity, the group funded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, opposed the tactics that led to the shutdown. Now that group is trying to move on, investing $2 million in a four-state ad campaign that hammers Democrats over the troubled health care law implementation.
"We're convinced that repealing Obamacare is long-term effort," AFP president Tim Phillips says, explaining why it didn't sign onto the right-flank's demands to defund the law as part of a budget compromise.
In a sign of another possible crack in the conservative coalition, a spokesman for Heritage Action for America says that in the near future, it likely will focus its health care criticism on Democrats, who stood together during the shutdown debate.
"There needs to be some breaks in that unity," says Heritage spokesman Dan Holler. "That may happen naturally, or it may need to be forced."
But Chocola said the Club for Growth wouldn't stop pressuring Republicans, particularly as congressional leaders begin to debate a new budget package.
Chocola wouldn't rule out another push to link such legislation to the president's health care law, but said his group might shift its strategy if major shifts to entitlement programs are included.
As the possibility of a shutdown loomed large in September, the network of GOP outside groups disagreed over strategy.
Crossroads officials briefed members of Congress on internal polling that showed the shutdown strategy deeply unpopular. Given that, the group and its fellow mainstream Republican allies largely stayed silent, fearing influential talk show radio hosts and aggressive conservative activists would brand them as heretics.
Meanwhile, conservative groups grew even more vocal in pressuring House and Senate Republicans to refuse to budge from tea party demands to defund "Obamacare" as part of any budget deal.
Eventually, House Speaker John Boehner broke with the right flank and endorsed the bipartisan plan to end the 16-day shutdown and raise the debt limit. And 87 Republicans in the House and 18 in the Senate supported it.
The damage to the GOP was severe: a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 63 percent of Americans now have a negative view of the Republican Party, the worst rating for the GOP in almost three decades.
Follow and Steve Peoples on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sppeoples and Philip Elliott: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Conservative groups seek control of GOP agenda
Most Popular Stories
- Bipartisan Budget Deal Gets Key Support in House
- Bitcoin Clones Lurch Onto Financial Scene
- Clinton to Keynote Annual Simmons Leadership Conference
- Scotch Whisky Sales Raise Distillers' Spirits
- Holiday Shopping Off to a Slow Start This Season
- Budget Deal Will Cut 220,000 Californians Out of Jobless Benefits
- Fake Deaf Interpreter Was Hallucinating, Has Schizophrenia
- Tea Party Glum in Face of Bipartisan Budget Deal
- Health Coverage Disparities Emerge Among States
- Futures Fall, Holiday Spending and Unemployment Up