Club for Growth may back a McCain primary challenger

Greg Nash

The fiscally conservative Club for Growth is keeping a close eye on a possible primary challenge to Sen. John McCainJohn McCainHigh anxiety for GOP Trump: 'Very disappointed' GOP senator dropped support GOP senator: I'd consider Clinton Supreme Court pick MORE (R-Ariz.), its president said Tuesday morning.

"In Arizona, we will watch that carefully. We'll look at John's record and his score," Club for Growth President David McIntosh told The Hill during a Tuesday breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

Reps. David SchweikertDavid SchweikertThe Hill's 12:30 Report Former GOP congressman lobbying for electric cars Senate races heating up MORE (R-Ariz.) and Matt SalmonMatt Salmon GOP lawmakers give Trump bad reviews on debate performance House GOP talks 'minibuses,' moves toward Senate in spending fight Gloom sets in for GOP MORE (R-Ariz.) have both told The Hill they're considering a challenge to McCain. Both Tea Party-leaning congressmen have been supported in the past by the group, which has also been critical of McCain.

"We'll see if either of the two members, you're right, they're people the Club's supported and thinks well of in Congress, does one of them decide to enter the race," McIntosh continued. "We'll do research including polling and determine, is there a path to victory and is the money well spent? And by a path to victory, some institutions only engage in things when they're 90 percent sure will lead to victory. The Club is willing to take greater risk. ... So that'll be an assessment we do in Arizona if the race materializes."

The Club has long been the biggest player on the right in GOP House and Senate primaries, and has helped elect a number of conservative Republican senators, including Marco RubioMarco RubioObama: Trump's rigged election talk 'not a joking matter' Obama: Trump and Putin have a 'bromance' Obama slams Rubio for Trump support MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRand PaulGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election How low is the bar for presidential candidates, anyway? Lawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law MORE (Ky.) and Ted CruzTed CruzTrump steps up campaign spending in final stretch McMullin tops new poll of Utah voters Cruz: Voter fraud a challenge MORE (Texas), a trio of likely presidential contenders.

McIntosh suggested that the Club is likely to not endorse in a presidential primary, though he said the group will continue to be vocal in criticizing those whose policies don't align with the Club's. He has already slammed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a longtime foe of the organization.

"If history repeats itself, we won't be endorsing a candidate for president," he said. 

The group has also taken the blame for backing primary challengers who flamed out in the general election — the Club helped defeat Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in a primary in 2012, only to have its endorsed candidate, Richard Mourdock, blow the race against now-Sen. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel A dozen senators call for crackdown on Chinese steel MORE (D-Ind.).

McIntosh said some of the other Republicans facing reelection that don't align completely with the organization aren't likely to face their wrath this time around.

He said, "nobody from Illinois has come to us" about challenging Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Iran sending ships to Yemeni coast after US ship fires at Houthi sites MORE (R-Ill.) and that the organization's primary objective is making sure it makes a "good investment" in backing someone who can win a general election, a sign it's unlikely to play in Democratic Illinois.

McIntosh, a former Indiana congressman, also described establishment-leaning Sen. Dan CoatsDan CoatsGOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election Liberal groups urge Schumer to reject Bayh for Banking gavel New ad slams Bayh on Wall Street, lobbying links MORE (R-Ind.) as a "longtime political friend and ally," and said he hasn't heard "of a race materializing" against him.

When asked which senator he most wanted to defeat, he said "Harry ReidHarry ReidPelosi blasts GOP leaders for silence on Trump Latinos build a wall between Trump and White House in new ad The true (and incredible) story of Hill staffers on the industry payroll MORE." But he said, if Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is the GOP candidate, the Club would stay on the sidelines. The likely front-runner, if he runs, has come under fire from conservatives for tax hikes he's pushed in the state. 

"Everything I'm hearing is, if he decided to run, it'd clear the field," McIntosh said. "Because of his record of raising taxes, he'd be someone the Club would not engage in supporting and use the resources for others."