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Club For Growth Chalks Up More Wins

May seems to be the Club For Growth's month.

The Washington, D.C.-based political organization, which is dedicated to supporting laissez faire capitalism, has scored a slew of GOP primary victories so far this month. It began in Ohio on May 2 where the group backed state Sen. Jim Jordan in the open 4th District House race and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell in the governor's race.

A week later, state Sen. Adrian Smith -- the Club-endorsed candidate -- won a crowded Republican primary in the western Nebraska 3rd District. On May 16, Club for Growth President Pat Toomey and the club's Pennsylvania chapter helped organize conservatives to vote against GOP state legislators who had approved a pay raise for themselves. Seventeen legislators members wound up losing their primary races, 13 of whom were Republicans.

Then, last night, another Club-backed candidate, state Rep. Bill Sali, won a six-way GOP primary to claim the nomination in Idaho's 1st District.

"The month of May is validating the new model we have developed," said Toomey. "[We] go in early and go in massively when we make an endorsement."

Take Sali's victory last night as the Club's blueprint for victory. The Club endorsed his candidacy last August and immediately began using its national financial network to bundle contributions to Sali. By May 3, Sali had raised $386,000 -- $353,000 of which came from Club donors.

In addition to funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Sali, the Club also ran two television ads and a radio commercial on his behalf, which cost roughly $149,000 total. The first touted his credentials as a tax cutter and a second ad that took Sali's two main opponents -- former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen and Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez -- to task for their support for higher taxes.

The second ad was a fascinating bit of political gamesmanship by the Club. Faced with survey data that showed showed Sali running behind both Sorensen and Vasquez, the Club went with an unorthodox strategy in the final days of the campaign. Since conservative voters were dividing their support between Sali and Vasquez, the Club's final ad, which was produced by media consultant Jon Lerner of Red Sea LLC, sought to link Vasquez to Sorensen, who was widely seen as the most liberal of the three top candidates. By doing so, the Club created more undecideds in Sali's wheelhouse -- the most conservative primary voters. The result? Sali took 26 percent to 18 percent for Sorenson and Vasquez.

In Nebraska, the Club bundled $323,000 for Smith (he raised $437,000 total) and spent $70,000 on television commercials to boost his candidacy. Jordan received $95,000 in donations from Club members and the group spent $100,000 on an ad campaign on his behalf. The Club was less active for Blackwell but did funnel $175,000 in member contributions to his campaign.

Toomey said the success of Club-backed candidates should send a message to the Republican Party in Washington. "The Republican electorate is a conservative electorate," said Toomey. "They expect and want and now they are demanding Republicans who govern on the principles they have always believed in."

Toomey added that the party is still not getting the message, however, pointing out that an attempt yesterday by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to cut out a series of earmarks received less than 100 votes. "Talk about a tin ear," said Toomey. "I think these guys are blowing it badly."

The Club's victories also validate a change in leadership that followed a successful 2004 cycle. Stephen Moore, who had helped build the group, left and was replaced by Toomey, who had left Congress after three terms and a near-miss primary upset over Sen. Arlen Specter (R) in 2004. (I wrote an article about the breakup at the Club for Washington Monthly last year.) Moore went on to found the Free Enterprise Fund, which was seen as a rival to the Club. He left that group soon after to join the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

While the Club has shown a remarkable ability to use its fundraising prowess and strategic know-how to help its candidates claim victory in open-seat contests, it has yet to oust a Republican incumbent, which is seen as the holy grail by many Club backers.

Many believe the Rhode Island Senate primary between Sen. Lincoln Chafee and Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, whom the Club has endorsed, is the best chance the organization has ever had to topple an incumbent. The two men will face off in a Sept. 12 primary. Thanks to the Club and his own personal wealth, Laffey has kept pace with Chafee on the fundraising front although the incumbent ended March with $700,000 more in the bank.

The Club is also heavily backing former state Rep. Tim Walberg, who is challenging freshman Rep. Joe Schwartz in Michigan's 7th District. In 2004, Schwartz, a moderate Republican, won a crowded primary as several conservative candidates divvied up the vote. This time, Walberg is the lone challenger and -- in theory-- will consolidate conservatives behind him. At the end of March, Schwartz had $334,000 in the bank to Walberg's $304,000. The primary is Aug. 8.

Given the Club's track record in contested elections this year, a win in Rhode Island or Michigan would both heighten the organization's national profile and worry Republican incumbents who tend to stray from their party's orthodoxy on fiscal matters.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 24, 2006; 3:07 PM ET
Categories:  House , Republican Party , Senate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Parsing the Polls: 2006 -- A Bush Referendum?
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Posted by: bype | September 30, 2006 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Laffey has yet to show that he can break 33% in a Rhode Island general election poll. If Chafee loses, the GOP will more than likely lose this Senate seat for the rest of the century.

CFG better be prepared to pick up a Senate seat in a less liberal state like California!

Posted by: Anthony | June 2, 2006 11:55 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for your remarks on the special election to replace our corrupt former Congressman "Duke" Cunningham. First time I ever (legally) voted twice for the same candidate (Busby) for the same office on the same day! The special election and primary election are occurring simultanenously. Amusing incident when Senator John McCain pulled out of a Bilbray fundraising breakfast yesterday only 12 hours before the event: Bilbray attacks McCain's position on immigration while Busby supports the Senate bill! Perhaps Sen. McCain should endorse Francine Busby!

Posted by: Steve from the CA 50th | June 1, 2006 12:23 PM | Report abuse

Some of these posters should spend some time doing research rather than spouting unsubstantiated attacks designed to inflame and bias other readers. Not much can be achieved if we are not debating based on facts.

To emphasize the point that many Club members are libertarian as opposed to social conservatives, it should be noted that one of the Club's founders is Ed Crane - founder and president of the CATO Institute.

It is also worth noting that the Club is not an elite organization of powerful rich guys (as the poster above insinuates when he mentions voting against directors of companies he owns shares in who happen to be Club members). Here's a partial list of the occupations of Club members:

Posted by: Jeff in VA | May 27, 2006 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Mike Brooks is blowing wind from you know where. The Club does NOT "run phone banks just before election time", The Club does NOT "have lists of regular church attenders", the Club does NOT "call about Gay marriage initiatives. etc." and the Club does NOT "publish and distribute a voters guide in most Fundimentalist churches". The Club and or it's PAC does bundle money for selected PRO-GROWTH candidates, and produces and airs radio and TV ads for some PRO-GROWTH candidates where our support can make a difference.

Posted by: Greg in Houston | May 27, 2006 7:21 AM | Report abuse

Will in Seattle is right, we DON"T have a democracy here! we have a REPUBLIC (if we can keep it)!

Posted by: Greg in Houston | May 27, 2006 7:04 AM | Report abuse

As a contributor to the CFG for a few years, and having attended several candidate selection meetings, I can confirm that the focus is on economic growth. Many members have a libertarian bend and are not social conservatives.
Controlled spending and limited taxation are key criteria. The probability that the club's support can make the difference is the final criterium. Emily's list is only used as a benchmark to compare success rates, not to match candidates.

Posted by: Paul Linthorst | May 26, 2006 11:27 PM | Report abuse

As A donor of CFG. I concur that Emily's List and Social issues is not the focus. We are committed to reducing the size of and amount of spending the Govt. does.

Posted by: Urban Pioneer | May 26, 2006 10:47 PM | Report abuse

Sorry...missed an 'L' in 'roller'

Posted by: CWP | May 25, 2006 5:29 PM | Report abuse

Justin in DC:

You obviously haven't read the comments from these people before now. This is actually pretty tame; I expected a onslaught of unfettered childish angst when I saw that CC wrote about a Conservative group. You should have seen it when Ron Nessen in a now-defunct Post blog criticized a leftist "think-tank." Wow...absolutely peurile. It's actually quite remarkable. They have a blind fervor and zealotry for their political beliefs (and against any opposing view) that would make the most holiest of holy-roler fundamentalist blush.

Posted by: CWP | May 25, 2006 5:28 PM | Report abuse

It really is disgusting how outside groups can come in and distort local politics with loads of cash. They might as well hang out a sign "We Buy Candidates." This is the kind of money that needs to be taken out of politics. Money for political campaigns should only come from people who actually get to vote for the candidates. Any other money is special interest money period.

Government of the people and for the people. Corporations, think tanks, PACs and labor unions are not people. They should not be allowed to contribute to political campaigns, nor should they be allowed make political advertisements nor should they be allowed to hire lobbyists. If we could get back to individuals acting on their own behalf rather than all of these special interest groups American might be able to right itself.

Posted by: Realist | May 25, 2006 5:04 PM | Report abuse

The Club highlight's races that pit its candidates against EMILY's List candidates because, from what I understand, EL is the only organization on the "left" (writ large) that follows the cash "bundling" strategy that CFG follows.

Posted by: JC | May 25, 2006 2:04 PM | Report abuse

R Cooperman: I am a Club member and have never heard of Emily's List until I read your post. If the Club delights in going against EL candidates, it may be simply a result of a polarized congress (socially and fiscally liberal vs socially and fiscally conservative). If there is any more to it than that, I am not aware of it.

Posted by: Justin in DC | May 25, 2006 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Goodness, I've never seen such a collection of ignorance, intolerance, angst, and ad hominem attacks as I've seen on these replies. Thank you for reminding me why I don't buy or read a newspaper that targets such readers.

Since the Bush Tax cuts, Federal tax revenues have been GROWING at double digits. That's right - the Federal Gov't is getting more money, not less as a result of Bush "evil" tax cuts. It's supply-side economics 101. The issue is that the RINO's in Congress are growing SPENDING even more - worse than Johnson's Great Society. Theses spendthrift RINO's are the problem that the Club hopes to address.

Posted by: Justin in DC | May 25, 2006 1:05 PM | Report abuse

oh, and in my spare time I like to vote against Club for Growth members on boards of companies I own direct shares in. It's fun.

Too bad we live in Communist America, where shareowners can't vote out board members so long as they get just one vote. We don't have democracy here.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | May 25, 2006 11:47 AM | Report abuse

thanks, Geoff, the insiders at national just don't get it how hot it is in the rest of the country, and how tuned out everyone is re Bush and the red commies in the WH.

It's like a bad dream - I'm back in my pre-teens watching Nixon hearings on the tube.

Smell the tidal wave. Surf boards at the ready, it's coming, and it won't take no prisoners.

A smart Dem now would just speak against the taxpayer money bled on this Quagmire and the budget deficits, and use the fire within to rip off his or her opponent's head, rip out their heart, spit down their throat, and stomp that evil black heart into the ground.

It's total warfare and the sooner you ride the wave and acknowledge it, the sooner you'll not get tossed in the surf. Waves don't respect reasoned debate - they just ARE.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | May 25, 2006 11:45 AM | Report abuse

For those who are active with/contribute to the Club for Growth, I would like to hear more from you about the dialogue CFG members have about candidate recruitment and selection. How involved (and at what stage of the candidate emergence/selection process) are members in recruiting prospective candidates? Given the incredibly high incumbency re-election rates, any smart candidate support group will target open seats. I would like to hear more about how CFG (prospective) candidates are identified and selected.

To speak to another thread in the discussion, does fiscal conservatism equal social conservatism? Not necessarily but there seems to be an overlap that may be a function of ideology or beliefs about scope of government. (E.g., a fiscal conservative would likely support a smaller scope of government therein returning much of the decision-making for various issues (abortion, gay marriage) to the states.) What fascinates me as a researcher is the extent to which the CFG delight in matching their candidates against EMILY's List candidates. Why exactly is that? I see two possible explanations: one, b/c of the candidate's pro-choice stance; or, two, CFG can't resist taking a swipe at EL, one of the most successful candidate support groups for the Democratic Party.

Presently I am surveying contributors to CFG to get at some of these questions I've posed above so I would like to hear more from some of the posters, either through this blog or by contacting me through email:

Posted by: R Cooperman | May 25, 2006 11:27 AM | Report abuse

The Club did not support current House and Senate leadership, we did support almost every Republican who voted against the Medicaid bill. We need more Republicans like these and fewer RINO's (Republican In Name Only) Having attended many Club meetings I have never heard a candidate asked his views on a social issue such as right to life. We do discuss Personal Savings Accounts in lieu of Social Security so individuals have a "right" to own and pass on to heirs the product of ones labor. I have heard many successful professionals, small and large businessmen and women, and retireees ask potential club nominees their views on flat taxes versus a national sales tax versus our present system, repeal of the "income tax" amendment, government taxing and spending versus leaving more money in our pockets so we can make those choices, etc. Our focus is on selecting cndidates that believe individuals can make better decisions on how to spend or save their money than can government. These are the candidates we support.

Posted by: Greg | May 25, 2006 8:32 AM | Report abuse

' "The month of May is validating the new model we have developed," said Toomey. "[We] go in early and go in massively when we make an endorsement." '


How is flooding money in to support a candidate a new model?

Posted by: Ryan | May 25, 2006 7:08 AM | Report abuse

Red states/districs such as PA?
Yes the club does prefer to do primaries in more republican districts but more liberal republicans tend to do inhabit more democratic districts.

Posted by: rtaycher1987 | May 24, 2006 10:10 PM | Report abuse

One thing people don't seem to understand about the Club: they involve themselves predominantly in open-seat primaries in safe Republican districts. Yes, there are exceptions--the Chafee-Laffey race, for one--but the Club focuses on seats that are not in play. Their goal is to get keep as many RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) who support tax increases and massive government spending out of Congress as possible.

Posted by: Shana | May 24, 2006 7:56 PM | Report abuse

A lot of these commentors are misinformed. The Club doesn't endorse candidates based on social issues, its all about their position on things like taxes, government spending, and free trade. Anyone who pays attention to them knows that.

Also someone mentioned that the Club had supported most of the House and Senate leadership. You should do some research before you make claims like that. First of all, the Club supported Shadegg in the race to become Majority Leader. Also Hastert and the senate leadership were in power before the CFG became powerful.

Finally, the Club tends to get active in races in heavily Republican states and districts.(RI is an exception not the rule) So it is very doubtful that the Club winning primaries will translate into Dem seats. I realize that might happen in RI but like I said, thats an exception.

Posted by: Sentinel | May 24, 2006 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Well said, Mike Brooks.

As for the "you're helping the Dems" argument, I'm loyal to the ideas, not to the party itself. If the Republicans abandon limited government, and we punish them for it, we trade a few years of Democrats in return for bringing the Constitution back from exile.

Seems like a good deal to me.

Posted by: PJ | May 24, 2006 6:37 PM | Report abuse

The Club for Growth a/k/a The Club for Sticking it to Future Generations a/k/a The Let Them Eat Cake Club.

Posted by: mike | May 24, 2006 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Geoff, Nope, Susan has it right. The neocons don't care about social conservatism at all. Bush's "christianity" was merely an invention of Rove's to get the votes of the silly Fundimentalist's. Go read the "christian voters guide" or something from the NRA. In Oregon, the "christian voters guide" painted a pro-abortion agnostic Republican candidate as an anti-abortion Fundimentalist by simply spinning her stand against late term abortions. Every bit of this was funded by the Club For Growth. They also run phone banks just before election time and have lists of regular church attenders and call about Gay marriage initiatives. etc. They also publish and distribute a voters guide in most Fundimentalist churches. They really don't care about the social issues, however. They simply want to get out the feeble minded whack jobs from those churches. They do the same thing with the NRA, which has become for all purposes an RNC front organization. Nothing new about this, either. The Dem's did the same thing with the Soccer Mom's and gun control and drunk drivers back in the Clinton years.

Oh well, Soccer Mom's, Gun Nuts, Fundimentalists, Pro-Abortion/Anti-Abortion exremists.....when you lay down with dogs, you're gonna get fleas.

Posted by: Mike Brooks | May 24, 2006 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Susan -- wake up. Your spouting of this "pro-business" spin isn't working. CFG isn't the Chamber of Commerce -- they don't primary GOPers who want to raise taxes or increase OSHA regulations. They want more SOCIAL conservatives -- that's their whole agenda. Stock the Congress with more Delay-type idiots.

Will is right -- look for the backlash in about five months.

Posted by: Geoff | May 24, 2006 5:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad the Club for Growth is helping ensure a Dem tidal wave. Because, to be frank, that's what they're setting up.

Posted by: Will in Seattle | May 24, 2006 5:16 PM | Report abuse

You all have heard about Emily's List, right? Well, Club for Growth is the business side of helping conservatives/Republicans win House and Senate seats. The money is legal, and their support will help maintain Republicans control of the House and Senate.

Instead of sending 100 checks to 100 Republican candidates for $100, I can send $10,000 to Club for Growth to them to distribute to the candidates who need to help. Unions donate money, PACS donate money, and so can I. It is all legal and shows support to raise money for those expensive ads needed in getting the pro-business message out to the voters.

Posted by: Susan Miller | May 24, 2006 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I strongly second Oliver's perceptive comment! I have nothing to add since he's said it all on this matter!

Posted by: Jason | May 24, 2006 4:14 PM | Report abuse

A win in RI for Laffey in the primary will almost surely result in a loss of the seat to the Democrats.

I wonder if they wear propeller beanies at the Club meetings?

Posted by: RI Native in DC | May 24, 2006 4:14 PM | Report abuse

The Club For Growth is empowering many moderate Republicans to say "I didn't leave the party--the party left me."

Posted by: Brittain33 | May 24, 2006 3:58 PM | Report abuse

The Club for Growth has alot of nerve. They backed George Bush claiming he was the greatest thing since sliced bread. They claimed he was everything a conservative was supposed to be. Turns out they didn't have a clue. If members of the Club for Growth had been standing on principle instead of cheerleading for the past 5 years things wouldn't be such a mess. Not only did they back President Bush they endorsed and backed the vast majority of the current leadership in the House and Senate making the same claim: that those people are true conservatives.

Why would any thinking Conservative care what they think because it's clear after having the advantage to spend considerable time up close with these politicians that Grover Norquist and Stephen Moore are very poor judges of who is conservative and who isn't.

Posted by: Gina Coleman | May 24, 2006 3:54 PM | Report abuse

While much is made of the horserace aspects of the Club for Growth's primary successes (money raised, incumbents removed, etc.), I wonder what the "primary purity" will mean when the Club's candidates hit the general election. In a race between a far right candidate and a center-left opponent, who is more likely to win in 2006? Not only are we seeing the national Republican Party split and crumble under the weight of corruption and deep unpopularity, but the state issues that would seem to be popular with the Club's candidates are suddenly losing steam as well. Grover Norquist's "TABOR" tax limitation is becoming increasingly toxic (see Blackwell in OH) as voters and legislators learn more about it. Ditto for the right's newer gimmick, the so-called "65% Solution," which purports to put more money "in the classroom" but which favors football teams over libraries. Six states have said "no thanks" to 65%. May seems to be the Club's month, alright, but "primary purity" often means "general malaise."

Posted by: Oliver | May 24, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Thank you CFG,
You are doing our jobs for us. If you remove Chafee in the primary then we will pick up Rhode Island. Or maybe they have been drinking the Purple koolaid so long they think Laffey can win. The democrats have been eating their young for years its nice to see the Republicans join the party.

Posted by: Andy R | May 24, 2006 3:22 PM | Report abuse

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