Fis­cal con­ser­va­tive brand ‘up for grabs’; club eyes re­turn to Rea­gan goals

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

With the Repub­li­can Party reel­ing, Pa­trick J. Toomey, pres­i­dent of the free-mar­ket con­ser­va­tive Club for Growth, says it is time for some­one to re­assert the tax-cut­ting, lim­ited-gov­ern­ment prin­ci­ples at the heart of the Rea­gan Repub­li­can coali­tion.

Mr. Toomey, a for­mer Repub­li­can con­gress­man from Penn­syl­va­nia, is po­si­tion­ing the club to be the pre­mier fo­rum for stir­ring that de­bate among the 2008 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls and help­ing pri­mary vot­ers sort through the can­di­dates.

“That’s the huge, rel­a­tively non­con­tro­ver­sial seg­ment of the Repub­li­can Party, and it’s up for grabs,” he said. “There’s no­body who has a lock on that seg­ment.”

Many Repub­li­cans blame run­away fed­eral spend­ing and cor­rup­tion for part of the party’s 2006 con­gres­sional losses, and Mr. Toomey’s group has num­bers to back it up. Polling done for the club in key swing con­gres­sional dis­tricts dur­ing the week­end be- fore the elec­tions showed vot­ers viewed Democrats as more likely than Repub­li­cans to be fis­cally re­spon­si­ble.

“Repub­li­cans gave up that brand, which is dev­as­tat­ing for the party,” Mr. Toomey said.

Some Repub­li­cans are try­ing hard to win the brand back.

For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney ear­lier this year pledged to re­strain non­se­cu­rity spend­ing to in­fla­tion mi­nus 1 per­cent and said he would be proud to veto spend­ing bills. Two weeks ago, for­mer New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani told the Her­itage Foun­da­tion that he wants out­right cuts in non­de­fense spend­ing and wants to cut the fed­eral civil­ian work force by 20 per­cent through at­tri­tion.

Both pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls also at­tended the club’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Florida in March, de­liv­er­ing closed-door speeches to try to win sup­port from the club’s well-heeled mem­bers. Sen. John McCain, the Ari­zona Repub­li­can who has made a rep­u­ta­tion on fight­ing gov­ern­ment spend­ing, made news by re­ject­ing an in­vi­ta­tion to ad­dress the club.

In a re­cent in­ter­view in the club’s Wash­ing­ton of­fice, Mr. McCain pops up time and again as the one can­di­date Mr. Toomey thinks can- not carry the free-mar­ket mes­sage.

“The fact is Sen­a­tor McCain has a prob­lem with con­ser­va­tives, and his cam­paign un­der­stands that, knows that,” he said.

The club has also crit­i­cized for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee in a re­port on his fis­cal record, but its re­port on Repub­li­can Sen. Sam Brown­back of Kansas was more glow­ing. Mr. Toomey said Mr. Brown­back has “bold, spe­cific plans, that are ter­rific,” in­clud­ing a flat-tax op­tion and sup­port for per­sonal So­cial Se­cu­rity ac­counts.

Still, Mr. Toomey is look­ing for the top-tier can­di­dates to put forth a broad, bold fis­cal vi­sion for lim­ited gov­ern­ment and tax cuts and says there’s still an open­ing for other can­di­dates such as for­mer Sen. Fred Thompson or for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich.

“The most im­por­tant goal is to get the vi­able can­di­dates to em­brace a pro-growth agenda. Again, with an as­ter­isk for McCain, I think that is vi­able with re­spect to all the oth­ers,” Mr. Toomey said, who took over the club’s lead­er­ship af­ter fail­ing to top­ple Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2004 Repub­li­can pri­mary in Penn­syl­va­nia.

There is also a Club for Growth Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, which spent $2.7 mil­lion in the 2006 elec­tions. The PAC could ad­vo­cate for or against some­one in the Repub­li­can pri­mary, but Mr. Toomey said the Club is still con­sid­er­ing that.

The club con­tin­ues to work through a le­gal case that the Fed­eral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion brought against it for past cam­paign ac­tiv­ity, but Mr. Toomey has made peace on an­other front, forg­ing an al­liance with the Repub­li­can Main Street Part­ner­ship — the more lib­eral Repub­li­cans in Congress who of­ten go head-to-head with the club’s pre­ferred can­di­dates in elec­tions and pol­icy.

The Main Street Part­ner­ship’s new leader is an­other for­mer con­gress­man, Charles F. Bass from New Hamp­shire, and the two men found they can work to­gether to pres­sure the Democra­tled Congress on fis­cal is­sues such as ear­marks.

But Mr. Toomey said that does not mean he won’t go head-to-head with the part­ner­ship in fu­ture races if needed.

Astrid Riecken / The Wash­ing­ton Times

Club for Growth Pres­i­dent Pa­trick J. Toomey

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