- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

Rep. Joe Schwarz campaigned personally with Sen. John McCain and had the support of President Bush — but what the incumbent didn’t have was the right positions on issues for a conservative Republican district in Michigan.

His loss in last week’s primary to conservative state lawmaker Tim Walberg is being read in Washington as a message to other Republicans about the need to control spending and listen to the conservative base on issues such as immigration and abortion.

Although the defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut’s Democratic primary has garnered the most attention, Mr. Schwarz’s loss indicates that Republican voters may be just as restless.

“Republicans the same day learned, ‘Don’t spend too much money. It’s not good for your political health,’ ” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. He said Republican politics has entered a new chapter in which a lawmaker’s votes on spending will be much more closely scrutinized by voters.

Mr. Schwarz signed the group’s pledge not to raise taxes in 2004, and Mr. Norquist said he did vote for tax cuts. But Mr. Norquist said, “There’s a higher standard now: What are you doing to cut spending?”

Other Republicans saw Mr. Schwarz’s position on immigration — he tied himself to Mr. McCain’s plan for guest workers and repeated Mr. Bush’s declaration that the country cannot deport an estimated 12 million illegal aliens — hurt him.

“McCain and Bush are presently not the best allies for a primary,” one Republican aide on Capitol Hill said. “When immigration is the party’s No. 1 primary issue, why surround yourself with the party’s two least credible sources on the issue?”

Mr. Walberg won 53 percent to 47 percent to oust Mr. Schwarz, who was first elected in 2004.

“Tim ran on limiting government spending, reducing taxes, defining traditional marriage, standing up for the culture of life,” said Joe Wicks, Mr. Walberg’s campaign manager. “Those were the economic issues that is the base, the key of the Republican Party.”

The conservative group Club for Growth also played a key role in the race. The group and its supporters spent more than $1 million promoting Mr. Walberg as a true fiscal conservative and attacking Mr. Schwarz as a big government, wasteful-spending, liberal Republican.

Pat Toomey, the group’s president, said Mr. Schwarz’s loss shows there’s a strong anti-spending sentiment among Republicans.

“It’s the strongest message so far” on the need to cut spending, Mr. Toomey said. “It shows that voters are very attuned to this issue.”

But Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of a group of more liberal House and Senate Republicans called the Republican Main Street Partnership, said the Club for Growth clearly “tried to buy the election” by focusing all its wealthy donors on this race. She said Mr. Schwarz lost because centrist voters stayed home.

Mrs. Resnick said conservative-base voters turned out, but about 10,000 other Republicans did not. Mr. Schwarz lost by 3,000 votes.

“For some reason, people sat home this cycle, and the issue is why,” she said. One reason could be that many centrist Republicans are “turned off” by the war in Iraq and the Bush administration, she said.

Bill Rustem, president of Public Sector Consultants, a nonpartisan public policy think tank in Lansing, Mich., said the loss is less a matter of issues than of simple math.

In 2004, Mr. Schwarz was the most liberal candidate in a race that featured several conservatives, who split the base vote. This time, Mr. Walberg was the only alternative to Mr. Schwarz, giving conservatives a clear choice, Mr. Rustem said.

Mr. Toomey said that argument doesn’t minimize the significance because this was the first time that a Republican incumbent had lost in what he called an ideological-based primary — one in which there were no redistricting conflicts or other external factors — since 1994.

He said it also dovetails with state primary losses for Republican incumbents in North Carolina, Indiana and particularly Pennsylvania, where 14 incumbents were ousted after having voted to give themselves raises.

“What all of this points to is, Republican voters are frustrated with the abandonment of the limited-government, less spending, fiscal conservatism that has historically been the Republican brand,” Mr. Toomey said.


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