One of the most powerful Republican-backed super PACs was preparing to unleash a horde of attack ads against incumbent Democrats voting not to reopen the government – a move that may be revisited if Democrats threaten a shutdown later in the year, the FOX Business Network has learned.
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On Monday, the Senate voted overwhelming to reopen the government after a two-day shutdown as Democrats who were holding out from voting on a continuing resolution decided to join with Republicans and approve the measure. The House is expected to approve it as well, a move that will officially reopen the government on Tuesday.
Both sides were looking to earn political points on the shutdown, with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) referring to it as the “Trump Shutdown,” after President Trump backed out of a initial deal. Trump and Schumer appeared to have tentatively agreed on reopening the government while allowing children of illegal immigrants living in in the United States under a federal program to remain in the country.
Trump, meanwhile, took to Twitter labeling the shutdown the “Democrat Shutdown” because the Senate minority leader wouldn’t vote to keep the government open without immigration reform that he wanted. The GOP was also preparing an onslaught of ads against any Senate Democratic incumbent up for re-election in 2018 through the Senate Leadership Fund, people with direct knowledge of the matter say.
The attack ads were said to target Democrats seen particularly vulnerable in states that Trump either won or came close to winning in the 2016 election, such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
With the House on the verge of voting for a 17 day extension to keep the government open, the PAC decided to hold its fire but may release the ads if Democrats return to the bargaining table in February and vote “no” on keeping the government open, these people add.
Before the vote on Monday, the PAC gave incumbents a taste of what could be coming as they fight for their seats in states won by President Donald Trump. In a press release going into the crucial vote, the fund released a statement against Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), an 11-year Democrat veteran of the Senate who is seekingre-election this year. Trump easily won that state in the 2016 election as he did West Virginia.
“Jon Tester joined liberal party boss Chuck Schumer in shutting down the federal government,” a statement from the PAC read. “This hurts Montana’s seniors, children and military personnel – and Jon Tester knows it,” it added.
Other Democrats up for re-election this year who are targets of the super PAC include Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Joe Donnelly (D-IN).
Tester voted against the bill that keeps the government open for another 17 days, while other incumbents voted yes.
With that, Tester is expected to be one of the fund’s top targets throughout the election.
Chris Pack, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, declined to comment on the PAC’s future plans against incumbent Democrats but did give FOX Business a statement in response to Tester’s “no” vote.
“Jon Tester has been exposed as a liberal extremist,” Pack said. “It is a sad day for Montana when Tester puts illegal immigration ahead of Montana’s children, seniors and military personnel,” he added.
Neither Tester nor Manchin returned calls for comment.
So far in the 2018 election cycle, the PAC has spent more than $3 million in TV advertisements against Democrats running for re-election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections.
Their top two targets this year have been Manchin and McCaskill.
They’ve spent over $80,000 against them throughout the current election cycle. The PAC is led by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), such as its CEO Steven Law, who previously served as McConnell’s chief of staff and later created the Leadership Fund in 2015.
Since its debut, the fund has been supported by Republican mega-donors such as Blackstone (NYSE:BX) CEO Steve Schwarzman, Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) CEO Sheldon Adelson and Point72 Asset Management founder Steve Cohen.
During the 2016 election cycle, the PAC spent $83 million on TV ads and $4 million on internet attack ads. Schwarzman and Adelson were some of the fund’s top donors that year, with the Blackstone executive contributing more than $3 million and Adelson handing out over $17 million. Cohen is one of the top donors this year, giving $2 million to the PAC so far.