Manzullo was furious at Cantor in the final days of the campaign, questioning whether he should resign from the leadership. In an interview just before the primary, Manzullo was asked if he is friends with Cantor. “Not now,” he replied bluntly.
Manzullo appeared to edge ahead of Kinzinger about 10 days before the election, painting himself as the outsider despite his nearly 20 years in Congress. Then, he was hit with more than $220,000 in negative ads, phone calls and mailings by the Campaign for Primary Accountability in the final week of the race. He lost by 10 percentage points, in an election in which 84,000 votes were cast, the highest turnout of any congressional primary in Illinois.
Trying to get ahead of the anger, Cantor began making calls late last week to Republicans who have been or will be targets of Linbeck’s group, according to aides familiar with the discussion. Reps. Spencer Bachus (Ala.) and Jo Bonner (Ala.), for example, were on the receiving end of more than $350,000 worth of negative campaigning by the group, according to FEC reports. His ads labeled Bachus “a debt-raising, status-quo politician” who is under investigation.
Both survived their primaries, barely clearing the 50 percent threshold that prevented them from having to go to a run-off campaign. Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) lost her primary after a $150,000 negative campaign by Linbeck.
Cantor’s explanations for the donation have somewhat further confused the issue. At times Cantor allies have suggested that the contribution was a staff error for not properly vetting the group or that it was Schock’s fault for not informing Cantor about the group’s mission.
Linbeck chuckled at those suggestions. “We haven’t exactly been hiding. If they missed that, they haven’t been reading the front page of The Washington Post,” he said, referencing a prominent story about his group a week before Cantor made his donation.
The group is now targeting Reps. Tim Murphy (R) and Tim Holden (D) in the April 24 Pennsylvania primary, with up to 10 more incumbents from both parties targeted in May primaries in North Carolina and Texas. Of the first $1.8 million the group raised last year, more than two-thirds of it came from six-figure donors such as Linbeck, who runs a construction company that his family has operated for decades. Linbeck said he has given more than $1 million for the effort.