- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

The Club for Growth a group that advocates a tax-cutting, pro-free-market agenda made a splash two years ago when it put $350,000 behind a conservative state legislator in the primaries and almost defeated a 20-year incumbent, Republican Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey.
This year, the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of more than 60 middle-of-the-road Republicans in Congress, fought back. They helped successfully defend Rep. Sherwood Boehlert in New York's 23rd Congressional District and Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in Maryland's 1st District from club-backed conservative challengers in the Sept. 10 primaries.
"It's the first time the GOP moderates have taken on high-financed, single-issue special-interest groups head to head, and we're pleased with our effort," said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the partnership.
Two years ago, the partnership, whose members describe themselves as fiscal conservatives but "socially compassionate," had limited ability to affect campaigns, spending only about $5,000 in Rep. Rick Lazio's bid for the U.S. Senate seat from New York. This year, the partnership, through both its hard money and soft money funds, plans to spend between $1.2 million and $1.5 million to promote and protect its members.
In general elections this year, the Main Street Partnership plans to support its members who face difficult races Reps. Constance A. Morella in Maryland, Nancy L. Johnson in Connecticut, Jim Leach in Iowa and Charles Bass in New Hampshire.
"Our first goal is to be good Republicans and after that is to protect moderates," Mrs. Resnick said.
They see their main opponent as the Club for Growth, another relative newcomer that tries to promote conservative alternatives in districts held by Republicans who, in their view, aren't committed to President Reagan's vision of lower taxes and smaller government.
Stephen Moore, president of the club, admitted Tuesday wasn't the best day for the group. But he said the club's message of holding "moderate Republicans' feet to the fire" still got through.
"One of the ways you do that is to take them on, knowing in most cases they're not going to be defeated. But just to challenge them gets their attention," he said.
The club also supports conservatives in open primaries and backs conservative incumbents. But Mr. Moore said the club makes its biggest effect when targeting liberal Republican incumbents. The Main Street Partnership, though, takes a different approach.
"We won't intentionally go out and attack conservatives in their districts, but when we are attacked, we will defend," Mrs. Resnick said.
In the New York race, Mr. Boehlert's difficult win surprised many. Officials at the Main Street Partnership didn't even know he was in trouble until a week before the primary. They funded a phone-bank operation to energize his voters. Mr. Boehlert squeaked through, winning by about 1,500 votes over opponent David L. Walrath.
Mr. Boehlert's showing this time around already has the club planning for 2004. "He's very vulnerable the next time if his voting patterns don't change," Mr. Moore said.
In the other race, Dave Fischer, who had the backing of the club and the National Rifle Association, tried to oust Mr. Gilchrest in Maryland's 1st Congressional District. Mr. Gilchrest won with 60 percent of the vote, while Mr. Fischer captured 36.3 percent and a third candidate, Brad McClanahan, took the rest.
The partnership spent $115,000 on two television ads, a newspaper ad, a mailing and a phone bank to turn out voters.
Officials at the partnership were angered by the fact that Mr. Gilchrest was targeted. They said he has consistently shown himself to be a fiscal conservative. Mr. Moore, however, said even though Mr. Gilchrest campaigned this year as a tax-cutting Republican, he hasn't always been that.
"If you look at his ads, they were basically saying he was a fiscal conservative," Mr. Moore said. "If you look at Gilchrest's record over the years, he has been one of the biggest-spending Republicans in the entire Congress. He has not been fiscally conservative. But hopefully he will be more fiscally conservative now that there's a group looking over his shoulder."

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