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 Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), its president said Tuesday morning.

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"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 SchweikertFive obstacles to Trump's infrastructure ambitions The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on tax-reform bill GOP Senate hopeful Kelli Ward leads challengers in internal poll MORE (R-Ariz.) and Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonQuiet jockeying for McCain seat angers Republicans McSally tells GOP colleagues she'll run for Arizona Senate GOP Senate hopeful Kelli Ward leads challengers in internal poll 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 Antonio RubioColbert: Students taking action on gun violence 'give me hope' Lawmakers feel pressure on guns Florida lawmaker's aide fired after claiming shooting survivors were 'actors' MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulDem wins Kentucky state House seat in district Trump won by 49 points GOP's tax reform bait-and-switch will widen inequality Pentagon budget euphoria could be short-lived MORE (Ky.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week 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 DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Dem group launches M ad buy to boost vulnerable senators Senate rejects Trump immigration plan 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 Steven KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns 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 CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsTop state election official questions why Trump is downplaying threat of Russian election interference: report Russian bots turn to gun control after Florida high school shooting: report The case alleging Russian collusion is not closed 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 Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake 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."