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Club for Growth Eyes Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani (R), the former New York mayor facing intense scrutiny of his positions on social issues and looking to build chits among conservatives, may find an unlikely ally for his 2008 presidential bid in the Club for Growth.

This is the first White House contest in which the conservative anti-tax group expects to play a role in the GOP primary process, and it has released three “white papers” so far detailing the economic records of a trio of Republican hopefuls.

Club for Growth President Pat Toomey said the group’s leaders are still weighing whether they will work for or against any of the 2008 candidates and would not rule out the possibility that the club’s political action committee would make an endorsement in the race.

He also praised Giuliani’s fiscal record, which so far has been overshadowed by a focus on his liberal social views.

“I think his fiscal and economic record as mayor and what he’s been talking about has not played a huge role in his candidacy yet — I think it will over time,” said Toomey, a former Pennsylvania Congressman.

“I think most of what people think about Rudy Giuliani is some mix of non-economic things,” he said. “It’s the role that he played in New York after [the] Sept. 11 [2001 terrorist attacks]. It’s positions he’s taken on social issues, and that’s been pretty widely discussed. But I haven’t seen a whole lot on his record on taxes and spending and free market economics. We’re going to help put a big spotlight on that, and I’m sure others will too.”

While the group’s distaste for Sen. John McCain (R) was made plain in the white paper it released Tuesday detailing the Arizonan’s record, Toomey had kind words for Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), who rounds out the trio of top-tier GOP contenders.

“We are still in the process of analyzing [Giuliani’s] record. … In the meantime, I can tell you I think there’s a lot to like about Mayor Giuliani’s record,” Toomey said. “I think there’s lots to like about Gov. Romney’s record as well. Neither one is perfect in our judgment. We’re still really trying to flesh that out.”

Giuliani and Romney along with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) will address the club’s 2007 Annual Winter Conference, which takes place March 29-April 1 in Palm Beach, Fla.

McCain was invited to attend but declined.

In the nine-page white paper released Tuesday, the club gave McCain some positive marks for his efforts to reduce pork-barrel spending among other things, but it concluded that his opposition to President Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 and his crusade to reform the campaign finance system were far more detrimental.

“The Bush tax cuts were a driving force behind the economic prosperity of the last couple of years and a cornerstone of a pro-growth philosophy,” Toomey said in a statement accompanying the document. “Not only did Senator McCain oppose these cuts, he aligned himself with the likes of [Sen.] Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) in his rhetorical attacks in 2001 and 2003. Four years later, American taxpayers still have not heard the Senator disavow his misguided statements and votes.”

While part of the club’s focus this presidential cycle will likely be working against McCain, it remains to be seen if they will choose to work to promote a single alternative — though some party operatives believe Giuliani has a good chance to be that guy.

The former mayor currently has a wide lead in early polls among GOP primary voters, although his campaign continues to face skepticism that Republican base voters will embrace a candidate who has liberal social views on issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control.

Toomey said the concerns about Giuliani’s social positions would play no factor in the club’s analysis or decision about getting more engaged in the race.

“It certainly doesn’t play any role in how the club would look at Mayor Giuliani,” he said. “We look exclusively at economic issues. That is written in stone at the club. We just don’t weigh in on social and cultural policy or defense for that matter. … Since our members are all over the map it wouldn’t be smart for us to try to weigh in.”

One GOP strategist with close ties to fiscal conservatives indicated that by process of elimination, Giuliani has a very good chance of being the last man standing when it comes to garnering the support of that constituency.

As mayor, Giuliani cut taxes 23 times and helped build a budget surplus — among the facts he touts routinely on the stump.

“He’s got a pretty good story to tell for Republican primary voters,” the strategist said. “His record is as appealing or more so to fiscal conservatives than most.”

Like Toomey, the strategist said, “Everybody knows what his imagery is on security stuff because of 9/11 and fighting crime, and everybody knows where he is on social issues … but the economic stuff is not really well-known.”

Since its founding in 1999, the Club for Growth PAC has helped to fund numerous House and Senate candidates, although the group has seen little success in its efforts to oust moderate incumbents through primaries. It has, however, helped many candidates win open-seat primaries and ultimately election to Congress.

Even if Giuliani were to get an endorsement from the Club for Growth, it would by no means guarantee him the support of the candidates and lawmakers backed by the group and it remains to be seen just how much the move might reverberate. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), among the club’s most vocal supporters, and conservative Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) are committed to McCain, their home-state colleague.

But while club leaders are still figuring out what their 2008 role will be, Toomey said it is encouraging to have options.

“The good news is that the club is bigger and stronger than ever,” he said. “Our members are very, very engaged. So I feel very fortunate that we’re in a position where we can play a role.”