GOP Primary Adds a New Twist to Feud

Posted September 14, 2004 at 6:34pm

The latest battle between the conservative Club for Growth and the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership looks more like a grudge match than their typical disagreements over ideology.

Both groups became involved in Tuesday’s three-way GOP primary in Washington’s open 5th district race. But where the Club for Growth backed state Rep. Cathy McMorris, the Main Street Partnership’s political action committee did not support one of her opponents. Instead, it circulated a mailer and aired radio advertisements criticizing McMorris and the club.

The primary results were not known by Roll Call press time Tuesday.

In a mailing sent to Republican voters in the 5th district last weekend, Main Street wrote: “What do we know about the controversial Club for Growth? What do they do? They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking Republican Members of Congress.”

To the club’s executive director, David Keating, that looked like the pot calling the kettle black.

“It’s an illogical reaction,” Keating said. “It’s as if anyone we are for, they are against.”

Main Street’s Executive Director Sarah Chamberlain Resnick more or less conceded the point.

“It’s nothing personal against Cathy,” Resnick said. “But she is proud to have the endorsement of an organization that we feel hurts the Republican Party.”

And that, for the Main Street Partnership, is the crux of the problem.

While the two groups are perpetually at odds — all the more so since the moderate organization began flexing its financial muscle this year — Main Street has been doubly furious ever since Roll Call revealed last month that Club for Growth members have donated to Democratic candidates and that its president, Stephen Moore, said: “We are not a Republican organization.”

“We don’t make a regular practice of doing this,” Resnick explained. “We certainly never do it against incumbents. We just felt it was necessary to highlight the fact that [McMorris] was proud to take the endorsement of a group that is proud to say that they are not even Republican.”

Keating said it is hypocritical of the Main Street to castigate the club for supposedly hurting Republican candidates and then turning around and trying to do the same thing.

“They’re going against their own rhetoric,” he said. “It seems they have lost it.”

Resnick said it is rare for the Main Street to attack another Republican but the group felt it was important to do so in this case.

At any rate, Resnick said it should not matter because the 5th will remain a Republican seat regardless of who the nominee is.

That view is not universally held in either Washington.

The Spokane-based seat is currently held by Rep. George Nethercutt (R), who is vacating it to run for the Senate.

The district is overwhelmingly Republican — it voted 56 percent for George W. Bush in 2000 — but Democrats think they have a real chance to win it.

Before Nethercutt won it in the 1994 Republican sweep, it was held for years by former Speaker Tom Foley (D).

The Democratic nominee, wealthy businessman Don Barbieri, faced no primary opponent and has been able to stash cash as McMorris and two other Republicans bloodied each other in the late primary.

Another irony is that McMorris and her two opponents, state Sen. Larry Sheahan and Spokane attorney Shaun Cross, did not differ on the major issues.

Each actively sought the club’s backing and none seems like a candidate who would seek out the Main Street Partnership if elected to Congress.

“The candidates are ideologically similar,” said one Republican insider familiar with Washington state who did not want to be named. “I hate seeing Republican groups waste money against each other in a race where they have no business [doing so].”

But that is exactly the point the Main Street Partnership is bent on making — that the club is not a Republican group.

Keating scoffed at that logic, noting that other national conservative groups aren’t always affiliated with Republicans.

“So if Citizens Against Government Waste or the National Rifle Association or National Tax Payers Union or the National Right to Life Committee endorse a candidate, are they [Main Street] going to oppose that candidate?” Keating asked.

“Those aren’t Republican groups either but they often endorse Republican candidates,” he said. “It just seems weird. [Main Street] took tens of thousands of dollars from George Soros, who is working against [President] Bush but we haven’t run ads about that,” he said, conceding that the Main Street Partnership did return the liberal billionaire’s money later.

Resnick noted that it was a separate 527 which took Soros’ money, not the Main Street Partnership itself.

“We’re not Republicans right or wrong, we’re Republicans right,” Keating said. “If Republicans want to stay a prosperous party, they should stay right too.”

It is that philosophy that has prompted the two groups to clash in the past.

One of the most bitter internal Republican struggles this cycle pitted the groups against one another in Pennsylvania.

There, the club backed conservative Rep. Pat Toomey (R) instead of Sen. Arlen Specter, a Main Street member, in his unsuccessful bid to knock Specter off in the primary.

As for Washington’s 5th district, Resnick admitted their involvement was not about gaining a new member.

“We’re not looking to add to the ranks [there],” she said.