American Crossroads announced this week that it will be involved in primaries, actively trying to choose Republican candidates it considers more electable. The conservative group has already made a small ad buy in a big race -- the potential entry of actress Ashley Judd in the Kentucky senate race against Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"If she's really interested in getting into this race and joining the NFL, she's going to get some knocks," says Jonathan Collegio, communications director of American Crossroads. "This is just kind of a first taste of that."
Beyond the attacks on Judd, the move into primary races by the Karl Rove superPAC is a signal that the group believes the Washington establishment is better at picking candidates, in some cases, than primary voters.
"Somewhere between four to seven U.S. Senate seats were lost over the last two election cycles, not because of the messages that the Republican party had," says Collegio, "but because of the messengers, the lack of candidate discipline, as well as a lack of ability to raise sufficient money to compete."
The group is taking some fire for the new move. Conservative activist Erik Erikson wrote in online publication Red State that in 2012 American Crossroads "spent hundreds of millions of rich donors’ money and had jack to show for it." Influential conservative group Club for Growth also chimed in, telling Slate that American Crossroads would have passed on candidates that turned out to be very successful, namely senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Pat Toomey, R-Penn., and Ted Cruz, R-Tex.
Collegio acknowledges that that particular trio of tea party candidates was great.
"But we've had some duds as well," adds Collegio. "Our goal here is to make sure that those duds are not making it to the general election where we're going to end up losing."
One dud in particular was Todd Akin, the Republican senate candidate for Missouri who came under fire for saying women who were victims of "legitimate rape" could not become pregnant.
Akin, says Collegio, got an assist from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, paying for an ad to help him "get over the finish line" in the Republican senate primaries.
"The one thing that all conservatives can agree, is that in 2014, we cannot let the democrats choose our candidates for us."
For more of this interview, including American Crossroads' risk of alienating some of the people who brought conservatives to power, check out this week's Top Line.