- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 13, 2007

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 before 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. This past week, 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 cannot 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 Democrat-led Congress on fiscal issues such as earmarks.

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

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