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Tennessee House primary breaks Club for Growth's winning streak

By Felicia Sonmez

The Club for Growth had a perfect record this cycle -- until last night's win by attorney Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee's 3rd district Republican primary for the seat of Rep. Zach Wamp (R).

Fleischmann bested former state Republican Party chairwoman Robin Smith (who was backed by the club) as well as nine others to capture the GOP nod. His win marks the first race this cycle in which the club's endorsed candidate did not prevail.

As we noted this week, Tuesday's primaries saw victories by three of the club's endorsed candidates -- businessman Mike Pompeo (R) in Kansas' 4th, state Sen. Tim Huelskamp (R) in Kansas' 1st and state Rep. Justin Amash (R) in Michigan's 3rd -- bringing to nine the number of club-backed contenders that have won primaries this cycle.

Previous winners include Rep. Tom Graves (R) in Georgia's 9th district, state Reps. Tim Scott (R) and Jeff Duncan (R) in South Carolina's 1st and 3rd districts, former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharon Angle (R) in the Nevada Senate race and former Rep. (and onetime Club for Growth president) Pat Toomey (R) in the Pennsylvania Senate race.

The club also counts the defeat of Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) in his May primary among its successes. (In addition, club-backed Kevin Calvey (R) is headed toward an Aug. 25 runoff with Professor James Lankford (R) in Oklahoma's 5th district race.)

The 2010 cycle is "definitely the best cycle we've had," said club spokesman Mike Connolly, pointing to the quality of the recent crop of candidates, especially in House races, as well as a political environment that favors fiscally conservative candidates.

In the Tennessee race, both Smith and Fleischmann ran good campaigns, but ultimately it came down to money, Connolly said. Smith was buoyed by about $200,000 in spending by the club, while Fleischmann spent more than $700,000 out of his own pocket, including $100,000 in the final week of the race.

The club spent $24 million on races in the 2008 cycle and is on track to exceed that this cycle, putting it alongside the American Action Network ($25 million) and FreedomWorks ($10 million) as one of the biggest-spending conservative interest groups. The group is planning on making its first tranche of general-election endorsements next week.

By Felicia Sonmez  |  August 6, 2010; 12:06 PM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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