Club for Growth balking at idea of helping McCain

Club for Growth President Pat Toomey said this week that his economically conservative group might sit out the 2008 presidential election and focus on congressional races.

The Club has had an antagonistic relationship over the years with Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBudowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? Sharice Davids to vote for Trump impeachment articles: 'The facts are uncontested' Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE (Ariz.), the GOP candidate for president. With the general-election match-up now set, Toomey is confronted with this dilemma.

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“I can acknowledge candidly that for all the reservations that we’ve had with Sen. McCain and some of the significant policy disagreements we still have with him, his policies are vastly better than Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump's intervention on military justice system was lawful and proper The mullahs seek to control uncontrolled chaos Poll: Majority of Democrats thinks Obama was better president than Washington MORE when it comes to economic growth,” Toomey said.

The Club played a significant role in the 2004 election, airing millions of dollars’ worth of ads supporting President Bush and opposing Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryConservatives rip FBI over IG report: 'scathing indictment' Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill Mellman: Looking to Iowa MORE (D-Mass.), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

During his presidential campaign, McCain has proposed some more Club-friendly policies than he has advocated in the Senate, most notably backing Bush’s tax cuts. That has yet to be enough to win an endorsement, and Toomey said no decisions have been made about whether to get involved.

That decision will be up to the Club’s board of directors.

“We don’t have specific plans to make an endorsement or not to make an endorsement,” Toomey said. “We’re kind of moving ahead, and we’ll consider that in the coming weeks and months.”

Of the option not to endorse, Toomey called it “a viable alternative” and pointed out the number of congressional races the Club has gotten involved in this cycle.

The Club this month endorsed its second GOP primary challenger in Alaska Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, who is facing Rep. Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems release first transcripts from impeachment probe witnesses GOP lawmaker head-butts MoveOn camera Hundreds turn out for London's first transgender equality march MORE (R-Alaska), and it has inserted itself in many of the top open GOP primaries in the country. In February, it helped knock off Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.).

Toomey also stressed that McCain’s vice presidential pick will help influence the Club’s decision.

“I think it’s very important,” he said. “It’ll be an important signal, indicating whether he wants to help consolidate the Republican coalition and energize the base of the party or not.”

The Club feels very strongly about South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), whose name comes up often among those speculating on McCain’s short list. Toomey also suggested in a February Wall Street Journal column that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) and businessman Steve Forbes would make strong vice presidential candidates — a slate of names less frequently mentioned, if at all.

Because it was a 527, it is difficult to know exactly how much the Club helped Bush in 2004, beyond the money it spent from its political action committee (PAC).

The Club is an increasing presence in national elections, though it was not on par with organizations like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and Progress for America in the 2004 presidential race, said the Campaign Finance Institute’s Stephen Weissman.

“They focus a lot on Republican primaries and on Congress,” Weissman said. “They’re smart. They know their greatest weight is in the primaries.”

The Center for Responsive Politics lists the Club as the top-spending GOP-oriented 527 in the 2006 election.
It reorganized after the 2006 election, selling its assets and name to the new 501(c)(4) Club for Growth. The new Club has largely let its  ClubforGrowth.net 527 arm handle electioneering communications. The 501 (c)(4) qualifies to do independent expenditures.

Club executive director David Keating said the Club’s PAC, through May 31, has bundled about 17 percent more and raised 60 percent more than it had last cycle at this point.

The Club is perhaps best known for supporting candidates challenging centrist GOP incumbents in primaries. It supported Toomey, a former Pennsylvania congressman, in his 2004 primary against Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey in his 2006 primary against then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.).

The Club actually attempted to recruit Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.) to run in a primary against McCain in 2004, but Flake declined.

Toomey wrote in the Wall Street Journal op-ed that McCain will be the GOP’s first nominee since 1976 to be “at odds with a large portion of its conservative members.”

McCain has also taken his shots at the Club, noting in 2007 that he wasn’t sure what he had in common with it.

The Club, at the time, responded with a video clip reinforcing McCain’s opposition to the Bush tax cuts and saying it agreed that there was little common ground between the two.

Apart from the Bush tax cuts, the Club has differed with McCain on the 2002 campaign finance law he wrote with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and has accused him of wanting to raise Social Security taxes.

It focused its GOP presidential primary efforts this cycle on attacking former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, but that was largely because McCain appeared to be out of the running at the time.