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 McCainFormer Trump Defense chief Esper to join McCain Institute We need an independent 1/6 commission that the whole country can have confidence in GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra 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 SchweikertBiden meets with bipartisan senators to discuss potential infrastructure bill Lawmakers offer competing priorities for infrastructure plans The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Which path will Democrats take on COVID-19 bill? MORE (R-Ariz.) and Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonCOVID-19's class divide creates new political risks Arizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate 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 RubioHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China DeSantis's rising GOP profile fuels 2024 talk MORE (Fla.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse approves George Floyd Justice in Policing Act Bipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers House sets vote for George Floyd police reform bill MORE (Ky.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCrenshaw pours cold water on 2024 White House bid: 'Something will emerge' Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington on high alert as QAnon theory marks March 4 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 DonnellyEverybody wants Joe Manchin Centrist Democrats pose major problem for progressives Biden and Schumer face battles with left if Democrats win big 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 KirkSenate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Senate makes SCOTUS nominee Barrett a proxy for divisive 2020 Senate Republicans scramble to put Trump at arm's length 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 CoatsHow President Biden can hit a home run Former Trump intel chief Coats introduces Biden nominee Haines at hearing Senate Intelligence Committee leaders warn of Chinese threats to national security 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 ReidHow to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster Who is the Senate parliamentarian and why is she important? Trumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats 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."