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 McCainArmed Services chairman unveils .1B Asia-Pacific security bill Overnight Defense: Trump scolds NATO allies over spending | Flurry of leaks worries allies | Senators rip B Army 'debacle' | Lawmakers demand hearing on Saudi arms deal The case for protecting America's intelligence agency whistleblowers 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 SchweikertHouse Democrats expand 2018 targets GOP amendment would give billion to insurers to cover high-cost patients Meadows: Freedom Caucus would back bill that got rid of 3 ObamaCare regs MORE (R-Ariz.) and Matt SalmonMatt SalmonConservative activists want action from Trump Senators fear fallout of nuclear option Western Republicans seek new federal appeals court 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 RubioSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer McConnell on Trump: 'We could do with a little less drama' Taking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRand PaulSenate gears up for fight on Trump's 0B Saudi Arabia arms sale Paul: 0B Saudi arms deal ‘a travesty’ Senate feels pressure for summer healthcare vote MORE (Ky.) and Ted CruzTed CruzFEC faults Cruz on Goldman Sachs loans in rare unanimous vote CBO score underlines GOP tensions on ObamaCare repeal Republicans go to battle over pre-existing conditions 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 DonnellySanders, Democrats introduce minimum wage bill Updated fuel regulations would modernize options at gas pumps Mnuchin mum as Dems press for answers on tax reform, Dodd-Frank 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 KirkTaking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it The Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump 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 frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing Budowsky: GOP summer of scandal The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 ReidGOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing This week: Congress awaits Comey testimony Will Republicans grow a spine and restore democracy? 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."