Perhaps overshadowed in a primary season that has come to be defined by the noise of the tea party movement is the current winning streak of a much older conservative powerhouse: the anti-tax Club for Growth.
A day after GOP House candidates Tim Scott and Jeff Duncan won their respective runoffs in South Carolina, Club for Growth President and former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.) was crowing about the rise of “Generation Club.”
Those wins come in the wake of GOP Rep. Tom Graves’ special election victory in Georgia earlier this month and a pair of Senate primary victories by club-backed candidates.
Even in a cycle when various tea party and right-leaning interest groups are trying to put their marks on the midterm elections, the club continues to earn high praise in the conservative community.
“No organization has done more to elect economic conservatives over the past decade than the Club for Growth. It’s principled, effective and feared by Democrats and Republicans alike,” said Matt Hoskins, spokesman for Sen. Jim DeMint’s (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund Political Action Committee.
If there is a criticism in conservative circles, it seems to be that in such a Republican-friendly year the club could be taking a few more risks with where it decides to play.
The club’s next chance to extend its primary winning streak will come in late July in Oklahoma, followed by a pair of primaries in Kansas and another in Tennessee during the first week of August. All those contests are in safely Republican open seats.
In fact, when it comes to House races this cycle, the club is so far only playing in safely Republican open seats.
The real battles between the club and the party establishment have played out in Senate primaries.
“It so happens that in this cycle, with the Republicans in the minority and Obama in the White House, the House Republican caucus has been unified and supportive of the club’s positions,” said one GOP strategist with ties to the Club for Growth. “On the Senate side this cycle, the club has shown itself very willing to buck the party establishment, with its successful effort to unseat Bob Bennett and its willingness to back Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey long before they became the party’s standard bearers.”
The club also backed Sharron Angle in Nevada’s Senate GOP primary when it was clear that the party establishment was behind Sue Lowden in that contest.
The move by the club this cycle to only play in safe, open-seat races in the House — as well as indications that the club will play a larger role in general elections this fall than it has in past cycles — has been welcomed by those who have criticized the group in the past for being a hindrance to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s efforts to pick up seats.
“The mentality last cycle was every man and woman for themselves,” one GOP operative said of the battles between the club and the NRCC. That year, the club’s current or past involvement in House GOP primaries was a major contributing factor in the party’s loss of three seats: Idaho’s 1st district, Michigan’s 7th district and Maryland’s 1st district.
“The difference between this cycle and last cycle is that everyone appears to be singing from the same song sheet and keeping their eye on the prize — November,” the operative said.
Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio), a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership who has been critical of the club in the past, credited Chocola, who took over as president this cycle, for running a more “Republican friendly” organization.
“I think they have perhaps decided that rather than being the club for Democratic growth they have a more target-rich environment on the Democratic side of the aisle in November,” LaTourette said.
But LaTourette said he doesn’t expect the love to last.
“If we secure the majority in November I’m sure we can get back to the Spanish Inquisition and continue purging our party by fire.”
But Chocola denied that his group has changed its primary strategy or is picking its races any differently than it has in past cycles.
“Our A races are open-seat, safe Republican races,” Chocola said. “If there’s going to be a Republican elected … we want to make sure the most free-market-oriented candidate is elected. That’s always our bread and butter. … What may be new is that we have more general election [races to play in] than we usually do.”
Chocola denied that his group is in any way trying to stay in its own lane and out of the way of the NRCC this cycle.
“We just try to find the people that we like to support, whichever lane they may be in,” he said. “I don’t think Bob Bennett would have said we stayed in our lane. I’m not sure Arlen Specter [D-Pa.] would have said we stayed in our lane before he switched parties.”
Chocola added that one reason the perception might exist that the club and national committees are playing nicely this cycle is that in the current political environment the committees have come to the realization that issues that the club promotes and the type of candidates that it looks for are what the voters want right now.
Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), who butted heads with the club during his tenure at the NRCC last cycle, agreed.
“The temper of the times make the differences between establishment Republicans and Club for Growth Republicans less than they were before. … Members realize they have to be much more consistently conservative then they have been in the past and that’s a good thing,” he said.