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Saturday’s special election in Louisiana didn’t result in much good news for the National Republican Congressional Committee, but in the lead-up to that contest, Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) did mention what he thought was one positive sign for the GOP.
Cole said in a press briefing last week that he was “glad to see” the powerful anti-tax group Club for Growth getting involved in general elections this cycle.
Cole’s offhand remark was noteworthy because it alluded to what has at times been a somewhat adversarial relationship between the NRCC and the Club for Growth, which has forced the GOP establishment occasionally to spend money on candidates it might not otherwise support.
But now that Republicans have lost their second competitive special election in a row, and with some fearing that the worst is yet to come in November, Cole’s statement could be interpreted as a call for unity during a dark hour for the GOP.
For their part, Club for Growth spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said on Tuesday that nothing has changed. The organization, she said, “isn’t doing anything all that different from last cycle. ... If Tom Cole is insinuating that we’re doing something new and different, then he hasn’t really been paying attention all that much.”
She said the main focus of the club — which promotes an anti-tax, pro-economic growth agenda — has always been and will always be primaries.
That’s because the club tends to get involved in races in conservative districts where it’s almost always the Republican who comes out on top.
“So the question is not, ‘Do we want a Republican or a Democrat?’ but rather, ‘What kind of Republican do we want?” she said. “Do we want someone who votes for the Republican leadership and then just votes for pork ... or do we want someone who is really committed to economic conservative values?”
But the group already has made several endorsements in races in which the club-backed candidate has either no or only nominal primary challenges. In those races, Soloveichik said, the club will be active in the general election.
They include the House races of Rep. Tim Walberg (R) in Michigan and Dean Andal (R) in California, and the Senate campaigns of former Rep. Bob Schaffer (R) in Colorado and Sen. John Sununu (R) in New Hampshire.
Over the years, GOP critics of the Club for Growth have complained that the group has occasionally given weak candidates the money and resources to get through tough primary races — only to orphan them when the general election comes around.
And since those candidates learn to rely on the fundraising power of the club in the primary, by the time the candidate gets to the general election, “you are left with a candidate who has no ability to raise money on their own,” one Republican strategist said Tuesday. “So groups like the NRCC have to step in and fund these candidates in a much bigger way than they should have to.”