The conservative group Club for Growth has changed gears and is supporting establishment GOP candidates in primaries.
Launched a decade before the tea party made life difficult for moderate Republicans, the club quickly rose to the political forefront while supporting challengers to incumbent Republicans who it felt were not conservative enough, according to the National Journal.
In 2012, the fiscally conservative organization backed tea party candidate Richard Mourdock’s challenge to Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar and vilified veteran Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch for his voting record. The group also targeted 10 moderate House Republicans.
But the political action committee has suddenly pulled back for the upcoming elections and has begun endorsing GOP candidates favored by party leaders, while newer, ultra-conservative groups have gone on the attack against them.
Earlier this month, the club backed Alaska Senate candidate Dan Sullivan over Joe Miller, whom the group endorsed in 2010.
In another surprising move, it refused to support tea party candidate Matt Bevin in the Kentucky race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell while also praising the vulnerable six-term incumbent for his record.
The Journal reported that the club is helping to fund the Arkansas campaign of Rep. Tom Cotton, the leading choice of the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC).
Also, the group is supporting just three challengers to incumbent Republicans in the midterm primaries, far fewer than conservative rivals such as the Madison Project, the Heritage Action Fund, and the Senate Conservatives Fund.
The club’s shift in gears is reverberating around Washington. "The club has been the slightly more the grownup in the room this cycle in terms of how they approach races," Brian Walsh, a former NRSC spokesman who has previously attacked the organization told the Journal.
Chris Chocola, the club president, said, "People call me once in a while and say, the establishment folks, even the McConnell folks, they say, 'You guys are kind of the model,' So get that in writing. I'd love to get that in writing."
Chocola said the group has picked winners in the past, such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who’s a former club president, and it’s doing the same in this cycle while helping to lead the party in its bid to capture the Senate.
"We're the rational smart people," he told the Journal. "I'm not saying we're smarter or anything, but we're consistent."
The club still comes under fire from establishment Republican leaders who say the group is "as destructive to the GOP as it’s ever been," according to the Journal. They point to the group’s opposition to veteran Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi.
McConnell and party committees have blacklisted the group, the Journal reported.
Chocola, however, says the club is just supporting exceptional conservative candidates who can win elections. Whether they are loved or loathed in Washington, Chocola is enjoying the ride.
"The fact that 11 people on the corner of 20th and L can outmaneuver, out-influence, outdo the entire establishment and all their allies ... that's pretty impressive, isn't it?" he told the Journal.
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