Republican environmentalist David Jenkins repeats the claim that the Club for Growth cost Republicans their congressional majorities. I’ve dealt with the Rhode Island Senate race at length before. The only thing I’ll add is that Sheldon Whitehouse didn’t exactly “eke out” a victory over Lincoln Chafee — he beat him 53 percent to 47 percent, a 6-point margin that isn’t exactly a landslide but is comparable to Barack Obama’s popular-vote margin over John McCain. George Allen, Conrad Burns, and even Jim Talent all came much closer to holding on to their seats.
I’ve also previously written a column and a piece for the May issue of the magazine arguing that the anti-Club revisionism is overstated at best. But let’s return to the subject one more time, since it doesn’t seem to get old for some people: The Club has unseated exactly two moderate Republican incumbents in its history, only one of them in a blue state and both of them — by Jenkins’ own admission — in heavily Republican congressional districts.
Tim Walberg beat Joe Schwarz in Michigan in a 2006 primary. Walberg went on to victory in November, but failed to win reelection in 2008. Andy Harris beat Wayne Gilchrest in a three-way primary in Maryland in 2008 but lost the November election. In both cases where the Club-backed candidate lost the general, the defeated Republican incumbent actively supported the Democrat during a peak Democratic year. The third example is Bill Sali of Idaho, who won an open primary and the general election in 2006 but lost a reelection bid in 2008.
This means that you can blame the Club for exactly three of the 51 House seats the Republicans have lost since 2006. Two of the three Club-backed Republicans managed to win general elections in one very Democratic cycle, though they lost in the second Democratic cycle (Jenkins’ comparisons of winning percentages between the conservatives and the moderates they beat doesn’t take into account how political conditions changed between 2004 and 2006). Who wants to bet that at least two of these three districts will be back in Republican hands after 2010?
Maryland’s First Congressional District is a case in point. It can certainly elect a more conservative congressman than Wayne Gilchrest. At some point, possibly as soon as 2010, it probably will. So in the long term, the Club’s support for Harris made sense if you view politics with a longer-term perspective than the next election. (By the way: one of the issues Gilchrest’s primary opponents used against him was his opposition to the Iraq war. Didn’t some New Majority types back a similar primary challenge against the much more conservative Walter Jones?)
Jenkins’ final example is the Club for Growth’s support for Steve Pearce over Heather Wilson in the 2008 New Mexico Senate race. He hints Wilson could have done as well as Pete Domenici traditionally did holding that seat for the Republicans. As I’ve said before, there is no evidence for this point of view. Wilson had trouble holding onto her House seat in 2006. She polled no better than Pearce in head-to-head matchups with the Democratic nominee.
The Club’s ideological approach to choosing which candidates to support doesn’t always take into account the temperament of a candidate or the nuances of a particular district. Nevertheless, the claim that the Club is particularly high on the list of people to blame for the Democratic Congress is just false. But then, they always blame Pat Toomey first.