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Club Prods Moderates on Bush Plan

The Club for Growth will spend upwards of $10 million on ads urging Congressional Republicans to support President Bush’s Social Security reform proposal, becoming the latest independent group to weigh in on the controversial plan.

In one of his first major acts as new club president, former Rep. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced Friday that his group will begin airing commercials this week that provide a “gentle message” to Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) to back the plan outlined by Bush in his State of the Union message.

The commercials will begin running Tuesday with a buy of approximately 1,000 points — statewide in Rhode Island and in select media markets in the two districts — meaning that the average viewer will see the ad 10 times in a week. The commercials will run for a week to 10 days.

“Personal savings accounts will give [the younger] generation the opportunity to save for a secure retirement — something to own and give to their children,” says the narrator.

All three Members face the potential of a primary challenge from their ideological right; the club has provided financial backing to past opponents of Boehlert and Schwarz.

“It has not escaped our attention that these candidates face re-election and could face real primaries,” Toomey said.

Today, another conservative-minded group, Progress for America, begins running its second ad this year in support of Social Security reform on national cable.

PFA is spending $250,000 on the 10-day buy, part of a larger effort on Social Security that will eventually approach $20 million, according to organization President Brian McCabe.

“It took courage to create Social Security. … It’ll take courage and leadership to protect it,” says the ad’s narrator.

Unlike the club’s ads or those being aired by the progressive group, which is running spots in the districts of GOP Reps. Jim Gerlach (Pa.) and Chris Chocola (Ind.) as well as that of Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd (Fla.), PFA is not targeting any specific Members of Congress at this point.

“The debate on strengthening Social Security is still in the early stages,” said McCabe. “We think it’s important to paint with broad brushes at this stage.”

McCabe added that as the legislation winds its way through Congress, PFA is likely to keep up the national drumbeat as well as play in particular states and Congressional districts.

The club has made a name for itself over the past several cycles with its willingness to challenge Republicans it deems not sufficiently conservative.

Toomey’s first move as president of the organization seems to indicate he will continue that legacy, a decision that irked some GOPers.

“It never helps advance the goal of building a lasting majority when Republicans start attacking other Republicans,” said a party strategist, who requested anonymity.

Though the first wave of ads are a “soft sell” for the need to support Social Security reform, sources familiar with the club’s planning say more hard-hitting ads are on deck should these Members not fall in line with the president.

Toomey hinted at that Friday, pointing out that the ads should be seen as a “blunt reminder that the club is paying attention.”

Chafee is perhaps the most moderate member of the Republican Conference, and there are persistent rumors that Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey will challenge him in a primary.

Already, Rhode Island Secretary of State Matt Brown has formally entered the race on the Democratic side and the national party is courting Rep. James Langevin to join the fray.

Schwarz won a crowded primary last cycle to replace retiring Rep. Nick Smith (R-Mich.), beating out Brad Smith, the Congressman’s son, who had the backing of the club.

Boehlert was a major target of the club last cycle when it backed David Walrath, who was challenging the incumbent for the second straight election. After coming within 3,000 votes of knocking off Boehlert in 2002, Walrath lost by more than 7,000 votes in September.

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