- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2000

New Jersey Rep. Marge Roukema, a liberal Republican, has been in Congress for 20 years, narrowly winning her 1980 House election by clinging for her political life to Ronald Reagan's coattails. Mrs. Roukema has averaged more than 71 percent of the district's vote during the last five general elections.

Customarily facing underfinanced Democratic opposition she has outspent her last two Democratic opponents $1.25 million to $90,000 Mrs. Roukema had become so entrenched that she considered her congressional seat and all the attendant perks to be entitlements. Her liberalism became more pronounced after Mr. Reagan's first term. Despite her district's solidly Republican orientation, Mrs. Roukema, according to Congressional Quarterly, supported Bill Clinton's agenda more than 50 percent of the time during the first five years of the Clinton administration.

Then something strange and unusual happened in 1998. Mrs. Roukema was finally challenged in the Republican primary by another elected official, conservative state Assemblyman Scott Garrett, who, despite being outspent 5 to 1 by Mrs. Roukema, captured 47 percent of the vote by attacking the relatively liberal voting record she had compiled. Today, Mrs. Roukema faces Mr. Garrett again, and by all accounts, the primary race is too close to call.

Mrs. Roukema's voting record has been a source of much frustration to conservatives, and Mr. Garrett's 1998 performance caught the attention of the newly formed Club for Growth, whose board of directors includes Cato Institute economist Stephen Moore, National Review President Thomas Rhodes and Wall Street investment banker Richard Gilder. The Club for Growth has committed itself to raise millions of dollars in campaign funds on behalf of non-incumbent, pro-growth candidates, including those who challenge entrenched incumbents. The Club for Growth is channeling as much as $100,000 to Mr. Garrett's campaign by encouraging similar-minded folks to contribute.

Exercising its First Amendment rights, the group is also plowing more than $100,000 into television and radio ads castigating Mrs. Roukema's voting record. The economic beefs that the Club for Growth has with Mrs. Roukema include her opposition to Medical Savings Accounts, her lead sponsorship of the Family and Medical Leave Act, her votes for increasing the minimum wage and not exempting small businesses, her strenuous opposition to privatized Social Security accounts and her vote against sunsetting the tax code.

Mrs. Roukema's response has been to throw a fit. She and some of her liberal allies have attempted to shift the debate by decrying the Club for Growth for attacking an incumbent Republican when liberal Democrats should be targeted. In fact, the club will be helping non-incumbent, pro-growth Republican candidates challenging incumbent Democrats and contesting open seats. Mr. Moore calls the strategy "an opportunity to trade up." It may be the best strategy to promote pro-growth policies in the House of Representatives.

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