Bannon expands his list of Senate Republican targets for 2018

Steve Bannon celebrates Moore's win
Steve Bannon celebrates Moore's win

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  • In Wyoming, Steve Bannon is attempting to recruit Erik Prince
  • Bannon had already put in motion efforts to oust Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake

Washington (CNN)Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is expanding his efforts to unseat sitting Senate Republicans in primaries next year.

In the two weeks since Bannon-backed former judge Roy Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange in Alabama's Republican primary, Bannon has expanded his map of targets in the 2018 midterms and ramped up his efforts to establish a donor network to fund his slate of insurgent candidates.
Bannon has added Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, Nebraska Sen. Deb Fischer and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch to the ranks of incumbents he plans to take on.
    And that's "just a partial list," a source familiar with Bannon's plans said.
    "Nobody's safe," the source said.
    In Wyoming, Bannon is attempting to recruit Erik Prince, the founder of security contractor Blackwater and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to run against Barrasso, a source familiar with Bannon's thinking said.
    Another potential candidate, Republican mega-donor Foster Friess, told The Washington Post he is considering running. "Normally, over the years, I've dismissed these urgings," Friess told the newspaper in an email. "But due to the stature of the people requesting, I sense a responsibility to prayerfully explore the possibility." Friess did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.
    Bannon's efforts to unseat Barrasso are an indication that he is willing to break from Trump.
    A White House official said Trump and Barrasso are tight. They talk frequently on the phone, particularly during the health care fight, and the President appreciated how Barrasso was willing to go on TV and defend efforts to repeal Obamacare.
    "The President's relationship with Barrasso is actually close," the official said. "It's hard to think that Barrasso is really under a threat."
    The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the view of the West Wing is that "the Bannon impact is exaggerated." The official added: "Most states aren't Alabama."
    In Utah, meanwhile, a source close to Bannon said even if Hatch retires and Mitt Romney runs for his seat instead, Romney would be a top target in a primary.
    Bannon had already put in motion efforts to oust Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller. Bannon also plans to get involved in the primaries in West Virginia and Missouri, two of Republicans' top opportunities to pick off Democratic-held seats next year.
    Since departing the White House and returning Breitbart News as executive chairman, Bannon has led an insurgency against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
    Every day since Moore defeated Strange -- the Trump-endorsed incumbent -- in Alabama's Republican primary runoff ahead of a December special election, Bannon has met with major donors in an effort to build a network that would finance campaigns against sitting senators who would have heavy-duty backing from the Senate Leadership super PAC.
    Bannon, who is close with the Mercer family of GOP mega-donors, was among the early backers of Kelli Ward, the conservative former state senator who has is taking on Flake in Arizona's primary. Robert Mercer's $300,000 contribution to a pro-Ward super PAC this summer was seen as an indication of anti-establishment support for her campaign even as Trump's White House attempted to recruit another candidate into the race.
    Bannon met for two hours with Moore and served as a Washington sherpa of sorts for the twice-ousted former Alabama chief justice when he visited Washington last week.
    Similarly, Bannon recently met with Danny Tarkanian, the Republican opposing Heller in Nevada -- another endangered incumbent facing a stiff Democratic challenge -- in next year's primary.
    He also strategized with Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel about a campaign against Wicker during a recent visit near Mobile, Alabama, to campaign for Moore ahead of the September 26 primary runoff.
    Bannon had also planned to be involved in an effort to unseat Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker -- but that ceased to matter once Corker announced his plans to retire last week. Rep. Marsha Blackburn launched a campaign for that seat that echoed much of Bannon's anti-establishment fury.
    Perhaps causing the GOP establishment the most angst would be Bannon's involvement in Missouri, where Vice President Mike Pence and McConnell-aligned forces see state Attorney General Josh Hawley as a strong challenger against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.