Bannon has House Republicans looking over shoulders for 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — Steve Bannon is telling people he’s not coming after mainstream Republicans in the House the way he’s targeting senators with anti-establishment disrupters in primaries. Many in the House are looking over their shoulders all the same.

“I can’t read Mr. Bannon’s mind,” said North Carolina Rep. Robert Pittenger, who could well be on the list.

Back atop the right-wing media organization Breitbart News, President Donald Trump’s ousted strategist is openly trying to topple Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and incumbents backing the Kentucky Republican. Bannon and his supporters say McConnell is the embodiment of an insufficiently conservative, unproductive party establishment.

The House is a different story, so far.

The 435-representative chamber is far larger than the 100-member Senate, so it would take huge sums for Bannon to reshape. It’s also where Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has steered bills erasing much of the Obama health law and cutting taxes. Conservatives such as Bannon may be able to tilt the House rightward simply by running primary candidates in open seats, rather than battling normally well-funded Republican incumbents.

When Bannon met this month with Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, who heads the House GOP’s campaign organization, he told Stivers their goals are aligned.

They’re “largely on the same page to defend and expand” the party’s majority, though there “might be a race here or there” where they clash, said Andrew Surabian, a Bannon associate and adviser to the Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump political organization.

“Steve’s focus is not on incumbents in the House,” Surabian said. “If you’re not going out of your way to be a thorn in the side of the president, you probably don’t have much to worry about.”

House Republicans aren’t completely convinced, and potential primary challengers are feeling buoyed.

“There are qualities about my candidacy he certainly would like,” Mark Harris, a former pastor set for a rematch with Pittenger in a district east of Charlotte, said of Bannon. “We’ve got to start draining the swamp.”

Harris lost in 2016 by fewer than 200 votes. He says he hasn’t talked to Bannon “as of yet.”

In New York, GOP Rep. Dan Donovan got a shot across the bow: a “Game on!” tweet by Michael Grimm, his challenger in next year’s primary, that included a photo of a smiling Grimm with Bannon. Grimm held Donovan’s Staten Island seat before serving seven months in prison for tax evasion.

House moderates, who’ve started calling themselves “governing conservatives,” seem particularly unsettled by Bannon’s crusade and anti-incumbent efforts by other conservatives groups.

“We want one unified Republican Party,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports more than 70 GOP moderates. “If the fight comes, we’ll be prepared.”

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