Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain's team is on a campaign to rid the Arizona Republican Party of tea party officials, replacing them with allies to the senator in advance of an expected bid for a sixth term in 2016.
According to Politico
. which spoke to nearly a dozen sources, McCain's team has been working with strategists and fundraisers across the country to undermine the standing of conservatives in his state who could pose a challenge
to his political future.
"There's been a huge organizational effort that I've never seen before," Gordon James, an Arizona public relations executive and McCain ally, told Politico. "A lot of the party folks who were hostile to John McCain have been marginalized, and that's a good thing."
In January, members of the state committee lead by tea party supporters formally censured the 2008 GOP presidential nominee
for not being conservative enough, particularly on the issues of immigration and the Affordable Care Act.
Since then, McCain's team managed to oust the man who authored the censure resolution, Timothy Schwartz, who had been serving as a GOP legislative district chairman.
"It's very clear what's going on," Schwartz told Politico, blaming his ouster on McCain. "Look, John McCain has prominence and money and influence and because of that he thinks he can ramrod us."
Another outspoken detractor, A.J. LaFaro, has recently announced he will not seek re-election to his county Republican chairmanship. He told Politico that McCain was guilty of engaging in the equivalent of "ethnic cleansing."
"For John McCain to have been so vindictive in his actions … It's just amazing," he said. "It's been all-out war."
McCain's former deputy campaign manager acknowledged that the censure has prompted action from McCain's team.
"He was very unhappy with the censure and wanted to make sure it never happened again," Mike Hellon told Politico.
Immediately following the censure vote, a group of top aides formed a super PAC, Arizona Grassroots Action, dedicated to spending money to elect more McCain allies to committee roles. It raised nearly $300,000 from longtime donors across the U.S., according to Politico.
The organization also proactively recruited candidates to take up precinct committee positions and spent money during the 2014 midterm elections on mailers and automated phone calls advertising the candidates.
The effort helped push outspoken conservatives to the sidelines.
McCain's aides say he is not personally involved in the effort but pleased with the outcome.
"Sen. McCain has been a supporter of efforts to expand the party and to get more people involved," Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, told Politico.
The 78-year old has not said whether he will seek re-election, but his spokesman told Politico he is "strongly leaning toward running again" and he would make a decision sometime next year.
"If Senator McCain seeks re-election in 2016, the groundwork laid in 2014 will be extremely helpful," said Jon Seaton, a McCain aide, according to Politico, adding that he would be "running with the strong support of thousands of grassroots Arizonans."
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