Raining on the Club for Growth Parade

Perhaps you are now aware that the Club for Growth has endorsed David Schweikert in his bid to unseat Harry Mitchell.  Please forgive the interruption, but I’d like to add some political analysis to the laudatory press releases and gushing reviews from the candidates friends.

Here is what the Club for Growth endorsement means, and what it doesn’t mean.

First of all, the Club for Growth is a 501(c)(4) political organization with a political action committee.  They support candidates with pro-growth beliefs, without regard to their opponents’ status as incumbents, by “bundling” contributions from their members, and by making independent expenditures on behalf of their candidates.  I have been a member of the Club for Growth for over two years, and seldom find myself at odds with their choice of candidates.  I also share their willingness to take on incumbents that vote for bigger government.  I strongly supported current Club president Pat Toomey’s bid to unseat Arlen Specter in a Republican primary, and was dismayed by President Bush and Rick Santorum’s efforts to stop him.
Here are some more facts:

Every candidate in this race wanted this endorsement.  Obviously!  Candidates for congress want free money and independent expenditures on their behalf.

This endorsement does very little to alter the Republican primary to take on Harry Mitchell.  Far from ending said primary with nearly a year to go, it really won’t have that big of an effect on the race.

Jeff Flake’s successful 2000 bid for Congress is being held up as proof that the Club’s endorsement concludes the primary.  Can we look a little deeper into that race, and apply an analysis more sophisticated than “The Club endorsed Flake; he won.  They endorsed Schweikert; he will win?”

Look at this poll from the week before the 2000 election.  Although the Club for Growth had endorsed Flake well before, he placed second in this poll, in a statistical three way tie for first place with Susan Bitter-Smith and Tom Liddy.  Fully 27% of voters were still undecided.  When leaners were included, Flake dropped to third place, five points behind Bitter-Smith.

Where should credit go for Flake’s victory a week later?

For starters, the most important variable in an open congressional primary was solidly in his favor; the outgoing Congressman endorsed him, which brings credibility, media attention, money, volunteers, lists, staff, and a generally well oiled machine to bear on their campaign.

Jeff Flake also borrowed a page from the outgoing Congressman’s playbook.

1.  Be a member of the largest politically cohesive demographic in the electoral district (in this case, the Church of Latter Day Saints in a district anchored on Mesa).

2.  Run against as many people as possible who are not members of the largest politically cohesive demographic in the district.

3.  Rinse and repeat.

Although this district has changed and now includes very little of Mesa, Laura Knaperek will certainly benefit by being the only Mormon candidate in the CD 5 primary.  The district still includes heavily LDS enclaves in Tempe, with other Church members scattered throughout.  She will also benefit if she remains the only woman in the race, though Bitter-Smith seems poised to give it another try.  If she had won the Club’s endorsement, she might have had just enough to make it a three way race.

During the last week of the campaign, Liddy and Bitter-Smith engaged in a very nasty and very public war of words and finger pointing over an attempt to discredit Flake.  By staying above the fray, Flake allowed his opponents to self-destruct.

Historical footnote: This incident has inspired “The Liddy Principle.” In the face of charges by Bitter-Smith, Liddy decided to take a lie detector test the week before the election.  The Liddy Principle states that if you are, for any reason, strapped to a polygraph the week before the election, you WILL lose.

Flake was also a handsome, dynamic candidate, with access to big donors as a result of his tenure as head of the Goldwater Institute (it should be noted that Flake spent appreciably less than Liddy at the end of the day).

In conclusion, while every candidate would like money for nothing (and their kicks for free), the Club’s endorsement wasn’t the fifth best reason that Flake won, and far from ending the primary, that race remained very fluid until the very end.  Getting excited about a candidate is what makes politics worth it.  It should not be an excuse for sacrificing real political analysis on the altar of our enthusiasm.


  1. Rankled Republican in Good Faith says

    Great history, Publius. Can you compare both races at similar points in time, namely one year before the actual election? We’re looking now at who is in or out. So if the CFG endorsement means little to primary voters that’s fine, but it still may be true that a candidate could be intimidated into making a withdrawal or stay-away decision long before the ballots are printed. Schweikert has drawn first blood, but there’s a way to go.

  2. This article reads as if someone has an axe to grind with CFG. The reality is, the organization chose Schweikert out of hundreds of candidates to back and that is an enormous endorsement for any republican running a race. You are right, this is no guarantee that the candidate will win, but what a nice way to start, right? It’s about resources…good for him.

  3. Just Curious.... says

    Why did the Club for Growth rush out to endorse Schweikert now? Not all of the candidates are in the race yet. Have they endorsed other candidates nationwide yet?

  4. A few questions:

    How long does it typically take for CFG to make an endorsement?

    How many endorsements do they typically make in an election cycle?

    How long has Ogsbury been an announced candidate?

    How long has Schweikert been an announced candidate?

    How long has Knaperek been an announced candidate?

    Is the Schweikert endorsement earlier than the usual CFG endorsements?

  5. Don’t forget that Club for Growth tried to install Steve May as its chairman for Arizona knowing full well that he was a gay activist. It doesn’t necessarily have good judgment.

  6. Publius,

    Very poorly thought out analysis. CFG has had significant influence on nearly every primary it gets involved in- that tends to be the case when you have the kind of resources they do.

    I fail to see how citing a poll from 2 weeks out in a race to illustrate the lack of influence of the Club tells us anything other than you probably have a preexisting bias in this race for another candidate. Ever wonder whether the Club’s activity up until that point might have been responsible for getting Flake where he was at that point? Ever wonder what the Club did in the last two weeks to help him? Believe it or not, races are fluid. It’s why candidates don’t just start campaigning two weeks out from election day.

    Wasn’t the Fifth best reason he won?? Give me a break, they raised a substantial amount of money and put a lot into independent expenditures to benefit Flake. Go look at the press coverage at the time. Jeff ran a very good race, but the Club was extremely helpful to his win. I don’t think Jeff would dispute that. And while you are doing that, look at some of the other races the Club has been involved in over the last few years. You say you are a member, how did 2006 go for them. As a member myself, it looks to me like their endorsed candidates comprised the majority of the incoming Republican freshman class in the House.

    They almost always have a significant influence on the outcome of the race. Spending and raising a lot of money tends to do that.

    Of course I could go on and on, but let me make one more point. You say that having the outgoing Congressman endorsing was the biggest factor?? If so, then how come we don’t have Congresswoman Lisa Atkins. Afterall, Stump retired endorsed her and she lost. The point to be made here is that Congressional endorsements have some effect, but nowhere near what you think they do.

    Going forward here Publius, You should probably do your homework before you try and pass off spin as political analysis.

  7. You can bet that CFG endorsed early because they found a candidate that met their criteria and they’re sending a message that the field is closed to anyone else on the conservative side. No reason to have lots of conservatives dividing up the votes and turning the race over to some big spending former state legislator!

    And yes Curious, they have endorsed other candidates already, quite a few by the way. Remember that our primaries are among the latest in the country, other states will be having their primaries much earlier next year, so their races are already well underway! Check the Club’s website for full details!

  8. One other thing Publius. AZ-05 has not changed significantly. You are comparing apples and oranges. Flakes district remains, to this day, substantially centered around the SE valley. AZ-05, is, and has been a Scottsdale oriented district for the last 5 years post redistricting. These are two different districts and historically have been so for some time.

  9. Club for growth endorsement is great for Schweikert, but not so good for the other candidates.

  10. Something is fishy here with the Club for Growth endorsement. Yes, Ogsbury lobbied on behalf of Arizona interests, but he was also part of the early days of the Republican revolution when Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston was actually cutting the budgets at the bureaucracies (and for a few beautiful days actually closing down ‘non-essential’ government offices.) Ogsbury has experience at the national level and a record of fiscal conservatism. I will report back to this space after I get a better understanding of whether the Schweikert endorsement is attributable to a fair, objective process or, given the speed of this endorsement, a backroom deal.

  11. PaulKirk…

    A staffer on a committee is entirely different than a clear voting record for tax reform, economic reform, and pro-growth conservative principles… Schweikert clearly has that record….

    I think your time would be better spent on clearing up the “is Elvis dead” conspiracy than if this was a backroom deal… The fact of the matter is, anyone can say that they are fiscally responsible, Schweikert’s record proves it… Lastly, Isn’t/Wasn’t Ogsbury a lobbyist? Not exactly the ‘experience’ we need in Washington!

  12. Note to Roger – Staffers actually do the work. This experience is invaluable at the national level.

    I haven’t decided whom I will support, in the primary or in the general. But, I will be paying attention to what the candidates say and I look forward to learning more about their records. You have obviously made up your mind before the first debate. Thanks for saving me some time as I can now skip over your transparent slovenly praise for Schweikert and your tired attack on Ogsbury, who spent a few years advocating on behalf of the cities of Mesa, Chandler, Goodyear and Surprise after a decade of policy and budget work for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations.

    Before you contribute again in this space, please do us a big favor and have something new and interesting to say.

  13. cd5 is alive says

    Seriously,when Schweikert speaks it is pure humor. This endorsement and the $$ that comes with it means more exposure. The more exposed he is to the public, the better it is for the other candidates. He is a very strange bird, not someone I would vote to represent me. Nor would he be able to beat Harry. CFG made a bad choice, but they have done that in the past, ie Steve May.

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