While a conservative anti-tax group prepares to paint two moderate Senate Republicans as traitors to their party in attack ads to begin airing this weekend, a middle-of-the-road GOP group has saddled up to rescue one of them with ads of its own.
The Club for Growth has announced it will spend $100,000 to run television spots comparing GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio) to France.
“President Bush has won significant military victories in Iraq with the help of strong, dependable allies,” the Club said in a release. “Why are his so-called allies in the House and Senate so eager to impede economic progress? These ‘Franco-Republicans’ are as dependable as France was in taking down Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.”
In response, the Republican Main Street Partnership will shell out about $40,000, matching the buy in Maine to defend group member Snowe.
Because Voinovich does not belong to the coalition, the group cannot justify spending money to help him, Main Street Executive Director Sarah Chamberlain Resnick said.
“The Republican Main Street Partnership is saddened that the Club for Growth would stoop so low to equate the efforts of hard-working GOP lawmakers to those undermining President Bush’s efforts to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his reign of terror,” Chamberlain Resnick stated in a release.
“While the First Amendment entitles the club to attack Sens. Snowe and Voinovich … the club’s comparing the lawmakers’ positions on a non-binding budget resolution to undermining the war in Iraq is tasteless,” she continued.
Club for Growth President Stephen Moore acknowledged that the ads are “hard hitting” but said that on the issue of tax cuts, “there is no room for disagreement” within the Republican Party.
“Senators Voinovich and Snowe have single-handedly thwarted the central piece of President Bush’s economic stimulus package,” he said, referring to their unwillingness to back a budget resolution that includes more than $350 billion in tax cuts.
The Club was incensed that the two moderates forced Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to cut a deal with them in order to secure their votes for the budget right before the spring recess.
In the actual television ads, the term “Franco-Republican” is not used but the group does show images of each Senator with the French flag in the background and draws parallels between their votes and France’s unwillingness to support the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
Initially, the Club for Growth was going to air ads in Elmira, N.Y. to get at Rep. Amo Houghton — a Main Street Republican who voted against the budget resolution — but ultimately decided to hold off on targeting any of the seven House Members who voted ‘no,’ choosing instead to focus on the Senate.
However, Moore said the initial two-week buys could be extended and might expand into House districts as the group raises more money for the campaign.
The Main Street ads will directly challenge some of the Club for Growth’s assertions.
“Equating a vote on the budget resolution with the war in Iraq trivializes the sacrifices of the men and women serving there,” one pro-Snowe ad will state. “No one who stands her ground while crafting a budget should have her patriotism challenged.”
Keeping the Iraq theme going, Voinovich spokesman Scott Milburn said the attack ads “remind me of the daily briefing from the Iraqi information minister — it ranks up there in terms of credibility. It’s almost too outrageous to comment upon,” he said.
Elizabeth Wenk, Snowe’s spokeswoman, would only say that the Senate approved a $350 billion tax cut and now Snowe will turn her attention to crafting that package.
Moore openly admits that he hopes the ads will force Snowe and Voinovich to change their minds.
“We want to coax them back into the fold,” he said, adding that he believes Congress will ultimately pass $550 billion in tax cuts — the amount the House wants.
“They’re connected at the hip,” Moore said of the two Senators. “If you get one, you will get the other.”
While the group contends it is merely trying to save Bush’s proposal to eliminate taxes on corporate dividends, others charge their real goal is to replace moderate Republicans with conservative ones.
“The Club for Growth attempts to weed out Republicans who don’t meet their litmus test from serving in both Congress and the Bush administration,” Chamberlain Resnick said.
The Club for Growth’s Web site unabashedly asks: “Do you want a Republican Congress, but don’t want to give your contributions to Republicans who would vote like Democrats? Or who vote for Republican pork instead of Democratic pork?”
Said Bob VanWicklin, spokesman for Houghton: “They’re a group of Republicans that targets other Republicans.” Chamberlain Resnick said her group’s members are the Club for Growth’s favorite targets.
“We spend more money defending ourselves against the Club for Growth,” she started, “I’d rather spend our money against Democrats.”
Moore responded to charges that his group hurts the party’s unity by saying: “We did not create discord within the party. The discord in the party was created by Senators Snowe and Voinovich.”
Chamberlain Resnick blamed the group for bloodying moderate incumbents in primary races by pouring money into the conservative challengers’ campaigns.
Many of the districts are competitive and if a Republican is too far to the right, a Democrat can win the seat, she said.
“They dirty ours in the primary” making the Member vulnerable so “a Democrat can win,” she said.
Looking ahead to next year’s elections, Moore said the group will consider backing a primary challenger to Voinovich — who’s up for reelection — if he does not come around to the Club’s position on the tax cut.