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 McCainFox News bests major networks in convention ratings Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ Why a bill about catfish will show whether Ryan's serious about regulatory reform MORE (R-Ariz.), its president said Tuesday morning.

ADVERTISEMENT
"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 SchweikertFormer GOP congressman lobbying for electric cars Senate races heating up Tea Party class reassesses record MORE (R-Ariz.) and Matt SalmonMatt SalmonLGBT fight dooms spending bill on House floor A hearing brought to tears over Right to Try legislation Time for national Right to Try legislation 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 RubioBudowsky: Why Warren masters Trump Meghan McCain: ‘I no longer recognize my party’ Five ways Trump’s convention was a success MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRand PaulWhat to watch for on Day 2 at the GOP convention Cyber squatters sitting on valuable VP web addresses Majority of GOP senators to attend Trump convention MORE (Ky.) and Ted CruzTed CruzTrump: Cruz is 'lucky' that I walked in on his speech Kasich leaves door open to Trump endorsement Instead of being bold, Clinton errs in picking Kaine 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 DonnellyOvernight Finance: Senate punts on Zika funding | House panel clears final spending bill | Biz groups press Treasury on tax rules | Obama trade rep confident Pacific deal passes this year Overnight Healthcare: Lawmakers leave for summer without approving new Zika funds Dems block defense spending bill for second time 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 KirkNBA pulls All-Star Game from NC over bathroom law GOP groups scale back support for Sen. Johnson Top GOP senator: Trump will have little effect on Senate races 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 rallies to Trump's 'law and order' message after Baton Rouge Indiana Republicans to pick Pence replacement next week Convention calendar: Parties and events 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 ReidSuper-PAC targets Portman on trade Dem leader urges compromise on FCC set-top box plan Senate Dems introduce Iran sanctions extension 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."

More in Senate races

McCain’s Dem challenger launches $1.5 million ad campaign

Read more »