Influence waning

Long a thorn in the mainstream GOP’s side, the Club for Growth is finding that it’s not immune to the general malaise afflicting all Republicans.

For an organization with the Club’s enviable track record, these are indeed tough times. In 2002, candidates endorsed by the dogmatic organization — which was founded to push the party to the right on matters of taxes, trade and government size — won 17 of 19 races it targeted. In 2004, the organization raised an amazing $22 million from 30,000 members, up from $3 million the previous cycle. When the smoke cleared on election night, the organization claimed 16 new Club-affiliated members of Congress. In 2006, despite tough times for national Republicans, Club efforts helped elect far-right Republicans in, among other places, Idaho (Bill Sali), Michigan (Tim Walberg) and Colorado (Doug Lamborn).

It’s true that the Club has enjoyed some successes this year: It helped Andrew Harris oust Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) in a summer primary, and it’s favored to hold the seat in November. Another Club-backed candidate, Steve Scalise, won the special election in Louisiana’s 1st district, and the Club notched primary victories in the California 4th with Tom McClintock and in the New Mexico Republican Senate primary with Rep. Steve Pearce.

But the Club’s prospects for November appear decidedly leaner. McClintock is no sure thing in his district at the foothills of the Sierras in northeast California. Democratic challenger Charlie Brown came within a few points of unseating corrupt incumbent John Doolittle from the seat in 2006, and he’s running equally strong in his second attempt. By helping to nominate the carpetbagging McClintock — who actually hails from Ventura County’s Thousand Oaks, over 400 miles outside of the district — the Club may have rendered the GOP’s task even more difficult.

Even worse is the situation created by the Club in New Mexico. In the Senate race, Democrat Tom Udall is running nearly 30 points stronger than Pearce. And barring a miracle, the Club won’t just lose the Senate seat, but also the House seat Pearce surrendered for this run.

Still, at least the Club won those primaries. Their list of 2008 defeats is already shockingly long. In the Louisiana 6th special election earlier this year, the Club-backed Woody Jenkins was humiliated by Democrat Don Cazayoux in a district Bush won in 2004 by 19 points. Candidates in Alabama’s 2nd, Kansas’s 2nd, Mississippi’s 3rd, Missouri’s 9th and Pennsylvania’s 5th congressional districts lost primaries despite Club support.

Worse yet, perhaps the biggest Club ally in the Senate is facing the fight of his life. In 2002, with John Sununu (R-N.H.) facing off in an epic fight against Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D), Club founder Steve Moore gave Sununu his warmest endorsement: “With Phil Gramm retiring, it will be healthy for the Senate to have John Sununu as a member.” Six years later, Sununu is locked in a tough rematch against Shaheen. With a double-digit deficit in the polls in a state that has trended sharply Democratic in the last several years, Sununu’s prospects are among the dimmest for incumbents in the Senate.

Moreover, two 2006 Club favorites — Idaho’s Sali and Michigan’s Walberg — are finding themselves under serious threat this year, too conservative even for what should be safe conservative districts. It’s a bad year when even Club victories from recent cycles are in danger of being rolled back.

The Club’s brand of ideological rigidity might’ve played well when the GOP enjoyed its congressional advantages. But as the GOP ranks thin out and the country moves left, the Club’s ideological purity is, ironically, proving a great assist to Democratic electoral prospects.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos .