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The Primary Race That Will Define Next Congress

For the coming weeks, the Fifth Congressional District of the commonwealth of Virginia will be a proxy for the wider war taking place within the Republican party in the nation’s capital.

In the June 18 primary, voters in the Fifth, which spans from Charlottesville south through Lynchburg all the way to the state line, will choose between the incumbent Rep. Bob Good (R-VA), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, or his challenger, Virginia state senator and former Navy SEAL John McGuire III for this safe red seat. 

The factions vying for influence in the GOP have drawn stark battle lines. The former President Donald Trump endorsed McGuire in a lengthy post on Truth Social.

“Bob Good is BAD FOR VIRGINIA, AND BAD FOR THE USA. He turned his back on our incredible movement, and was constantly attacking and fighting me until recently, when he gave a warm and ‘loving’ Endorsement – But really, it was too late. The damage had been done! I just want to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, and the person that can most help me do that is Navy Seal and highly respected State Legislator, John McGuire, a true American Hero,” the post read in part.

McGuire also has the support of the former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s allies, along with a number of other players who work on behalf of the more moderate portion of the GOP conference.

“Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy is on a revenge tour (after he quit on the American people and left the House) because I held him accountable for his actions,” Good told The American Conservative. “He is raising millions of dollars to try and defeat me and other courageous conservatives by recruiting candidates who will do what the Swamp tells them to do NOT what the people want them to do.”

Under attack, Good boasted of his conservative bona fides. When the former president endorsed McGuire, Good released a statement touting two dozen endorsements from figures such as the former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Rick Scott (R-FL), as well as fellow Representatives Eli Crane (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Chip Roy (R-TX). 

Lee told TAC that “not only has Bob Good been a tireless champion for the Constitution in the House of Representatives, standing against government mandates, working to secure America’s borders, and fighting to protect every precious human life, he is a great friend and patriot.”

“If we can’t send 435 of him to Congress, at least we can re-elect one Bob Good,” the Utah senator added. “Virginians are lucky to have him in their corner.”

Good also said conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth, House Freedom Action (the PAC for the House Freedom Caucus), Heritage Action, Family Research Council PAC, Eagle Forum PAC, NRA, and Gun Owners of America have supported his work over his first two terms in Congress. But with Trump entering the fray, the Freedom Caucus chairman, who took on the role in January of this year, is under serious threat.

The result of the upcoming election just two weeks away in Old Dominion will carry profound implications for the balance of power within the GOP come January 2025.

For most of the 118th Congress, the Freedom Caucus has acted boldly, frequently asserting itself in tumultuous conference debates and dynamics. It has been a thorn in the side of Republican leadership, which has effectively had to preside over the conference more akin to a coalition government in a European parliamentary system. When McCarthy attempted to ascend to the speakership in January 2023, the members of the Freedom Caucus and their allies withheld their support in order to extract concessions on how McCarthy would preside over House business. When Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida spearheaded the effort to remove McCarthy as speaker, Good, other members of the Freedom Caucus, and Freedom Caucus allies supported the maneuver.

After House Speaker Mike Johnson replaced McCarthy, the Freedom Caucus has continued to put pressure on leadership to force the Biden administration to secure the southern border in exchange for passing appropriations or supplemental funding for wars in Ukraine and Gaza. At each turn, however, Republican leadership has ditched its coalition partner and courted Democratic support to pass appropriations, renew FISA, and provide another $95 billion in supplemental foreign aid, mostly for Ukraine.

As Republican leadership has seemingly become more determined to cut out conservatives in the GOP conference, the conservatives and the House Freedom Caucus’s impact on shaping the day to day issues on Capitol Hill has been minimized. Now, the best way for conservatives to reassert themselves is to win elections and increase their ranks. 

With Trump on the top of the card this November and conservative and Freedom Caucus candidates leaning into their America First credentials, however, the more moderate factions of the party are trying to minimize conservative’s electoral success. They’ve decided to try and cut off the head of the snake by going after the Freedom Caucus chairman.

“I hate to see it,” Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina told The American Conservative of the primary challenge against Good. “I’ve supported Bob Good since he came to Congress. He’s head of my Freedom Caucus. He’s been a leader ever since he’s been there.”

“The president did what he thought was right,” Norman added, with a caveat. “A lot of the people, particularly South Carolina, that President Trump has endorsed are RINOs—the very ones that fight him every step of the way.”

“[Good] would have loved to have had the President’s endorsement, but it didn’t happen,” Norman said.

“Endorsements give you a lot of publicity, they give you some momentum,” he continued. “But at the end of the day, it’s up to each candidate to have a message that matches their record. And Good’s record matches his rhetoric. I can’t say that about everybody.”

Yet Good has put himself in a difficult position. He is among the few House conservatives not only to square up against McCarthy, but the former president himself: Good came out in support of Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis in the 2024 GOP primary before switching to Trump in January of this year. Now Good is drumming up as much support from conservatives and conservative organizations as possible. McGuire has a vast network of disparate interests, most of whom are looking to exact revenge on Good and the Freedom Caucus, working on his behalf.

As for the circular firing squad forming in Virginia’s fifth district, Norman said Republicans are “burning money that we don’t have.”

“That’s the controversy with Speaker Johnson,” Norman continued. “[Johnson] is a good man—he’s a Christian—but he just kowtowed and gave in to the Democrats. The spending that he agreed to was this was a spending plan that was orchestrated by Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, and Hakeem Jeffries. One of the cancers in this country is the invasion at the border. We’ve been a constant voice in Mike Johnson’s ear to stop the immigration crisis right in its tracks. They just won’t do it.”

“To go after Bob Good, who’s been a true conservative, not in word, but in deed—I think it’s a travesty for the party,” Norman added. “I think it’s a travesty for anybody that really goes out on a limb for him.”

As it stands now, Good’s campaign has raised just over $850,000 to keep his seat. Nearly $450,000 of that money has been spent. About 20 percent of Good’s contributions, $166,000 and some change, come from small dollar donations of less than $200. Nearly 70 percent of the campaign’s funds, nearly $580,000, has come from large individual contributions. PACs have provided another $108,000.

From a pure campaigning perspective, Good has a massive advantage over McGuire, who has raised just less than $500,000 and spent just $150,000 and some change. Less than $10,000 has come from small individual contributions. McGuire has received $187,000 from individual donations over $200, and $19,000 from PACs. Over 55 percent of McGuire’s funding, which amounts to about $280,000, according to Open Secrets, comes from “other” sources.

But expenditures from the two major candidates’ campaigns are a drop in the bucket compared to outside spending. While outside groups have spent over $1.6 million in support of Good, other groups have spent $2.7 million to oppose him. Meanwhile, outside groups have spent just under $12,000 against McGuire, and $720,000 has been spent on his behalf.

Outside groups spending money on Good’s behalf include the Champions of Freedom PAC, the Club for Growth, Gun Rights America, the Protect Freedom PAC and the House Freedom Fund. Champions of Freedom, which has cut an ad outlining how McCarthy is seeking revenge, has supported Good to the tune of just over $57,000. Gun Rights America has given Good just over $25,000, and Club for Growth has provided just over $10,000. Two of Good’s largest outside supporters so far are the Protect Freedom PAC and the Conservative Outsider PAC, which have contributed more than $740,000 and $435,000, respectively.

Good has received an added boost from the House Freedom Fund, just over $94,000. With most caucus members relatively safe, it is sensible that Good would be one of the top recipients of its financial support. (So far, House Freedom Fund has provided substantial financial support to not only Good, but Republican Representatives Crane, Anna Paulina-Luna (FL), Lauren Boebert (CO), Scott Perry (PA), and the former Rep. Yvette Herrell (AZ), all of whom will face tough primaries or generals.)

Nevertheless, there are some concerning signs underlying the caucus’s campaign apparatus that could make Good and other members more vulnerable over the course of this election cycle. 

The House Freedom Fund has received $4.8 million in contributions, per FEC filings. Just over $1.3 million have gone towards operating expenditures. Meanwhile, just over $1.2 million has been doled out in independent expenditures to candidates with the House Freedom Fund’s support. Another $2.5 million has been provided to other committees associated with these candidates. Combining independent expenditures with contributions to other committees, House Freedom Fund has about a 2:1 expenditures to operations spending ratio.

Meanwhile, House Freedom Action, a super PAC that spends money in races involving House Freedom Caucus candidates, has raised just under $1.4 million. Half of that total, $702,000, has gone to operating expenses, while just $401,000 have been spent on independent expenditures. The ratio of operations expenditures to independent expenditures is inverted. For every two dollars spent on operations, only one goes in support of a candidate.

“It is weird that the operating expenditures are $700,000 and independent expenditures are about $400,000. It’s usually the reverse of that,” a source familiar with Republican PAC operations and connections to House Freedom Fund and House Freedom Action told TAC.

“Look at some of the bigger Super PACs, whether it be CLF or Club for Growth, or some of these other ones that spent half of that,” TAC’s source continued. “They’re definitely pulling in more towards the independent expenditure column rather than the operating expenditures. It just seems like a lot of other vendors are padding their pockets.”

Ryan Girdusky, a contributing editor to TAC and founder of the 1776 Project PAC, did not think the current ratio of operations expenditures to independent expenditures was troublesome. “I don’t think it’s weird,” he said. “They only have 1.4 million there. They could not give two to one because there’s not enough money there.”

“Overall, the whole thing is a low amount,” Girdusky said.

A large chunk of House Freedom Fund and House Freedom Action’s operating expenses goes towards the same consulting companies. Bold Colors Group LLC, a consulting firm run by Matt Hoskins, a former chief of staff and policy director for Sen. Jim DeMint, has been paid about $500,000 from House Freedom Fund and over $160,000 from House Freedom Action for “PAC fundraising services.” High Bridge Consulting, an Ohio-based consulting firm founded by Michael Lord with staffers such as Ray Yonkura, Rep. Jim Jordan’s former chief of staff, has received $160,000 from House Freedom Fund and another $160,000 from House Freedom Action. Concept 278, headed by Kristin Szafranski, the former director of operations for the Senate Conservatives Fund, has been paid over $60,000 by House Freedom Fund and House Freedom Action respectively. Payments for both High Bridge and Concept 278 were marked as “PAC strategy consulting.” Zealous LLC has also received tens of thousands of dollars from both the PAC and super PAC for “digital consulting.”

Nevertheless, the familiar source said, “You want to pay good people, and they want to be paid good for it.”

“The problem is when donors give their money, they’re expecting that we’re going to put this money in order to propel certain candidates to defeat or victory. That’s the whole goal, right?” the source continued. “Any time your operating expenditures outweigh your independent expenditures, there’s just something off there. It’s not right.”

Meanwhile, outside groups are also pouring money into Virginia’s fifth district on behalf of McGuire. The American Patriots PAC, a group started by McCarthy to support or oppose his chosen candidates, has spent over $1.4 million on getting Good out of Congress. The group, largely underwritten by Citadel’s Ken Griffin and Elliott Investment Management’s Paul Singer, has reportedly booked $3 million in advertisements (a massive sum) for the GOP primary race in south-central Virginia. 

“The American Patriots PAC steadfastly supports veteran candidates who have dedicated themselves to our nation, and John McGuire exemplifies this commitment,” Griffin, who has provided the PAC with over 80 percent of its funds this cycle, told Bloomberg. “It is with pride that I support the American Patriots PAC’s mission of bringing exemplary leaders into Washington.” (American Patriots PAC is also supporting Gaetz’s primary challenger in Florida.)

Defending Main Street, a super PAC that serves as the campaign arm of the Republican Main Street Partnership, has spent over $450,000 on the effort to primary Good. The group was founded in 2012 by the late Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, an ally of the former Speaker John Boehner, and sought to support establishment Republicans from challenges from the Tea Party. Though LaTourette, who was known to refer to new colleagues in Congress from the Tea Party as “knuckle-draggers”, passed away in 2016, the group’s mission continues with a new focus on minimizing the influence of the House Freedom Caucus.

“Unfortunately, the Swamp is trying to strike back against me. I have a big target on my back because I am the Chairman of the House Freedom Caucus,” Good told TAC. “The special interests in Washington and the big money elites from California know that I am not afraid to call out members of my own party when they are not doing what we promised the American people when they gave Republicans the majority.”

The involvement of groups like Defending Main Street in the Virginia Fifth primary race raises questions on how groups with vastly disparate interests who happen to fall on the same side of a given race will manage to coordinate. Previously, Defending Main Street was one of the central opponents to Karoline Leavitt’s bid for New Hampshire’s first congressional district seat in 2022. Leavitt, a former Trump communications staffer, now serves as the Trump campaign’s national press secretary.

The war between Leavitt and her backers and Defending Main Street got ugly. One ad produced by Defending Main Street said, “[Leavitt] wants to bring her generation’s new vision to Congress. You know, mooching off her parents, [and] running up huge credit card debt.”

“The same Super PAC running negative ads personally attacking me is the same group who supported the weak Republicans that voted to impeach President Trump, so it’s no surprise they are spending millions to help Matt Mowers get to Washington,” Leavitt responded at the time. “Frankly, I am honored the D.C. Swamp is attacking me with these desperate personal smears because it means they know that I am the true conservative outsider in this race. They cannot buy this seat, and our grassroots movement will prevail on September 13th.”

McGuire’s supporters seem to be in a relatively stronger financial position. Defending Main Street has received over $2.6 million in contributions, and its independent expenditures to operating expenditures is 2:1. While American Patriots PAC has spent just over $100,000 on operating expenditures and just under $65,000 on independent expenditures, American Patriots has received $7.2 million in contributions.

Despite the toplines, Norman is pleased with Good’s leadership: “What Bob Good has done, as any good businessman does, is question: What’s your income—how much are you making—and how much are you spending on things that don’t go to the candidate?”

Good has also brought more transparency, Norman claimed: “He’s bringing it out in the open. Before Bob Good, nobody really knew what the expenses were. It was just kind of an area that we didn’t delve into. Now that he’s delved into it, some of the overhead costs are being questioned.”

“That’s the right thing to do,” he added. “Anybody that gives to any group owes an explanation of where their money goes, how it’s been used, and that’s what he’s been doing. I think that has ruffled some feathers.”

“I’m happy with his leadership and consider him a true conservative who will fight for America,” Norman summarized.

Crane also approves of Good’s leadership. “Not many people in this town are willing to take repeated hits by championing conservative policies for the sake of the people that sent them here, but that’s exactly what Bob does,” the Arizona congressman said. “We need more of that.”

Despite his colleagues’ support, TAC’s source said it’s still a “bad look” for Good: 

The chair of the House Freedom Caucus is in such a bitter battle right now and very well could lose. Because of that, I think they are disproportionately trying to protect Bob Good. Now, you have all of these other candidates that are part of the House Freedom Caucus that are definitely pro-Trump who aren’t getting the resources allocated to them because Bob Good, the chair, is now absorbing all those resources because he’s caught in a bitter primary battle.

“At the end of the day, it’s a terrible ratio. It shouldn’t be happening,” the source added.

Trump’s apparatus is getting more involved in the race in a slightly different way. Across the Fifth, drivers pass tons of Good and Trump yard signs posted next to each other outside properties along the James Monroe Highway. Some of these yard signs that feature Good’s name under Trump’s have drawn the ire of Trump campaign lawyers since Trump endorsed McGuire. Trump campaign lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to Good’s campaign, which read in part: “It has come to our attention that your campaign is producing yard signs purporting to indicated President Trump’s endorsement of your candidacy. You know this is false.”

“There’s obviously the fine line of compliance and what organizations and committees are able to do,” TAC’s source claimed. How these different groups are attempting to organize and coordinate in this race remains an open question.

“First off, a lot of this stuff is made publicly available,” the source said. “So you have all that information, and then they’re able to adjust their spending based off of that. And now a lot of these organizations think ‘Okay, they’re hitting Bob Good on the Trump stuff,’ and then one organization might hit Bob Good or any candidate on a particular issue, so they’re flanking them from both sides.”

“PACs are allowed to coordinate—not with the candidate, but they can coordinate with each other for sure,” Girdusky told TAC. Whether or not there are too many cooks in the kitchen remains to be seen. “I don’t know if they coordinated: ‘You do digital, you do broadcast, you do cable, you do mail, you hire a door-knocker.’”

“I don’t know how much the candidate has on them, but the candidate should be spending the money on commercial time, because candidates get a better purchasing power for commercials than PACs. So it would behoove them to have the candidate to pay for the commercials, and they pay for mailers, and door-knockers, and polling, and what not,” Girdusky continued. “They can’t coordinate that, obviously, but that’s what would be the most effective.”

Trump followed up with a video message posted on social media reiterating his endorsement of McGuire. “Virginia—there is a big and very important Republican Primary Election on Tuesday, June 18th,” the former president said. “[McGuire] is an American hero who served as a Navy SEAL. John is a highly respected state legislator who is strong on the border—very, very strong—and very powerful in defeating the drug cartels, tough on crime, and will always defend our under siege—always under siege, and it is always under siege for whatever reason—Second Amendment.”

“John is running against Bob Good, who is actually bad for Virginia and who will stab you in the back like he did me,” Trump claimed.

Other groups, such as Heritage Action, aren’t getting too involved in the primary race. Though Good in a previous statement touted Heritage Action’s support, a Heritage Action spokesman told TAC that “Heritage Action does not endorse candidates.” However, the spokesman did note that Good has a 100 percent rating on the group’s voting report card.

“It’s sad that, because of the decisions Bob Good made, by turning his back on Trump, House Freedom Fund, which is made up of a bunch of pro-Trump, America first people, resources are being pulled from members,” TAC’s source claimed. Rather than spending money on other candidates in the general election, “they’re now having to spend money to protect Bob Good.”

Norman, however, still feels good about the Freedom Caucus chairman’s chances.

“We went down to Virginia and campaigned with him for a day, Scott Perry and I. He’s got a solid base of people that like him,” Norman said. “He feels confident, and we’ll wait for the returns to come in.”



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