The Club for Growth met with former Colorado Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) on Wednesday and is leaning heavily toward endorsing him in his Senate primary race against brewing magnate Pete Coors, according to informed sources.
Club Executive Director David Keating said that no final decision had been made on the race but that “if we endorse, we would be likely to endorse Schaffer.”
Keating said his organization was “surprised at how strong” Schaffer’s numbers were in a poll that the club commissioned on the race.
The former three-term Congressman led Coors by 3 points statewide, a figure bolstered by Schaffer’s 17-point bulge in the eastern Colorado 4th district that he represented from 1996 to 2002.
“There is plenty of room for growth for Bob Schaffer,” Keating said. “He looks like a very strong candidate.”
Schaffer was scheduled to address club members via conference call Wednesday afternoon. The group had previously met with Coors, the scion of the nation’s third largest brewery.
Coors spokeswoman Cinamon Watson would not comment on the possible endorsement by the club but did note that her candidate received the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce last week.
“We are pleased with the endorsements we have received,” said Watson. “We will continue to earn as many endorsements and votes in Colorado as we can.”
The two men will square off on Aug. 10.
The winner is likely to face state Attorney General Ken Salazar, who is the heavy favorite against educator Mike Miles in the Democratic primary.
Schaffer demurred when asked to comment about the impact of the club’s endorsement, but noted that his strengths dovetail with the fiscally conservative approach that the organization advocates.
“My record in public service has been defined primarily by economic leadership,” said Schaffer. “Any organization that is similarly focused on a free market approach to expanding American prosperity is going to have a likely interest in my candidacy.”
An endorsement by the club would provide a major financial shot in the arm to Schaffer’s campaign as he prepares for the Aug. 10 primary.
Never an outstanding fundraiser during his tenure in the House (the most he ever spent on a re-election race was $515,000), Schaffer has lagged well behind Coors in collecting campaign dollars to this point.
Coors’ campaign said it has raised better than $1.3 million with all but $300,000 of that in the bank. He has the added weapon of vast personal wealth, and he has expressed a willingness to spend it on the race.
“Fundraising is an indicator of Pete’s electability,” said Watson. She noted than in addition to Coors’ financial edge, he — not Schaffer — is the only candidate in the race to have organizations set up in each of the state’s 64 counties.
Schaffer has brought in $500,000 with just $125,000 left on hand.
Despite those seemingly disappointing numbers, Schaffer in an interview Wednesday said he was happy with his fundraising to date.
“Like all campaigns, we are involved in the eternal quest for more money,” said Schaffer. “We are encouraged by the depth and breadth of financial support for the campaign.”
Nevertheless, an official endorsement by the club could do wonders for Schaffer’s money-gathering operation.
The organization has shown it is extremely effective in bundling contributions to its endorsed candidates from donors throughout the country.
The club also has a hard-money political action committee and a so-called 527 soft-money organization through which it pays for media campaigns on behalf of its endorsees.
In the late April Pennsylvania primary, the club put more than $2 million in donations and television ads behind conservative Rep. Pat Toomey (R) as he challenged Sen. Arlen Specter (R).
The organization has already bundled more than $300,000 to the Senate campaign of South Carolina Rep. Jim DeMint (R) and launched a $140,000 ad buy in support of the Congressman’s candidacy on Wednesday.
The Upstate Congressman faces former Gov. David Beasley in a Republican runoff on Tuesday.
On its face, the Colorado Senate contest appears to tailor-made for the club, which has shown a willingness — some would argue an eagerness — to buck the establishment choice in favor of a more conservative candidate.
Schaffer has long been a darling of the Colorado conservative movement, cementing his reputation as a citizen-legislator by honoring his three-term-limit pledge in 2002.
He has been endorsed by former Sen. Bill Armstrong (R), the most powerful player among social conservatives in the Centennial State, as well as conservative Colorado Reps. Marilyn Musgrave and Tom Tancredo.
Keating said that Schaffer had been “battle-tested” during his six-year Congressional tenure and “stood up to the kind of pressure people face when they come to Washington.”
Schaffer flexed his muscle in the activist community by taking 61 percent of the vote to Coors’ 39 percent at the Republican state convention earlier this month.
Coors has painted himself as an ideological carbon copy of Schaffer but with the ability to reach out to the moderate voters necessary to keep the open Senate seat in Republican hands.
“When you look at the stances on issues, you see the similarities between Bob’s positions and Pete’s positions,” Watson said.
Coors has secured the endorsement of Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, who is generally seen as a conservative, but also has the backing of more moderate Republicans like Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and retiring 3rd district Rep. Scott McInnis.