Schwarz Could Face Primary Fight

Posted November 1, 2005 at 6:01pm

Freshman Rep. Joe Schwarz (R) is preparing for another rough primary in his Republican-leaning, south-central Michigan district.

And he is readying to again do battle with the Club for Growth, which supports anti-tax, free-trade Republicans, often in GOP primaries.

Last year the club funneled $275,000 into the campaign coffers of attorney Brad Smith, who was one of six Republicans vying for the seat being vacated by his father, then-Rep. Nick Smith (R).

Schwarz, a moderate who is a physician and former state Senate President Pro Tem, won the GOP primary and the seat mainly because his five Republican competitors split the conservative vote.

He took 28 percent of the primary vote last year, while Smith earned 22 percent and former state Rep. Tim Walberg captured 18 percent.

Schwarz recently met with the club’s leadership to discuss his stances and the possibility that they may oppose him next year.

So far no other Republican has declared his candidacy, but Walberg is considering making another run.

“I’ve talked with the Club for Growth on several occasions since the election,” Walberg acknowledged. “I hope to make a decision before the first of the year.”

Walberg said he believes he would have to be in the race by Jan. 1 to raise enough money to seriously challenge Schwarz.

For his part, Schwarz has expected at least one of his vanquished opponents to make another run.

“It’s not any huge surprise to us” that Walberg would run again, said Matt Marsden, Schwarz’s chief of staff. “We’ve been running an active campaign since the day after the election — we’re taking this primary very seriously.”

The younger Smith reportedly was mulling another House bid but is not expected to enter the fray now that he is being considered for a federal judgeship — under the recommendation of some of Schwarz’s Republican colleagues in Michigan’s Congressional delegation.

Smith would not comment for this story.

David Keating, executive director of the Club for Growth, said his group is interested in electing a more Republican Representative to the seat.

“We’re definitely looking at Walberg,” he said, adding that Walberg would have secured the group’s backing last year if Smith had not run.

“We look at every race. We have not made a decision,” he said.

Marsden said he does not understand why the club would target his boss, considering that Schwarz agrees with the conservative group on “many principles.”

“They have a shortage of races,” Marsden continued. “They see an opportunity to put another opponent up against the Congressman but I see no logical reason for [Club for Growth President Pat] Toomey and Mr. Keating to get involved in the primary.”

Keating said he would not discuss how Schwarz’s votes or positions have squared with his group thus far.

“We don’t care to respond to that right now,” Keating said. “We don’t think it’s really appropriate; we’re still making our evaluations.”

The Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports centrist Republicans and squares off against the club in many GOP primaries, said it will do whatever it takes to protect Schwarz.

“We’re happy to beat the Club for Growth again, though we don’t have any idea why they would primary him,” said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the Republican Main Street Partnership. “He’s a good sitting Republican. Wouldn’t their money be better spent helping Republicans in a potentially rough year to help defeat Democrats?”

Schwarz has a healthy war chest heading into next year. He had almost $340,000 in the bank as of Sept. 30.

He ultimately spent $750,000 on his race last year, the bulk of which went toward the primary. He was aided by the League of Conservation Voters in his primary battle.

Schwarz defeated an underfunded and unknown Democrat 58 percent to 36 percent in the general election to win the seat. So far, no Democrat has expressed interest in challenging Schwarz in a district that gave President Bush 54 percent of the vote last year.