A conservative interest group is working to "improve the gene
pool" in Congress, a spokesman said.
But the typical target of this group is unusual: Republicans.
The Washington-based Club for Growth often targets GOP lawmakers who stray from a conservative philosophy on tax, spending and free-trade issues. Its willingness to take on Republicans in primaries sets it apart.
"Party is not our focus," said Chris Chocola, the Club's president. "Policy is our focus. There is no question it makes the Republican establishment unhappy."
Founded in 1999 by economist Stephen Moore, the nonprofit organization, with a super PAC to support conservative candidates, "is a significant power player" in national politics, said Alison Dagnes, a political science professor at Shippensburg University.
Last week's come-from-behind Republican primary victory in a Texas Senate race was a classic Club for Growth campaign.
The Club backed Ted Cruz, who ran against the Republican establishment and defeated David Dewhurst.
The Club spent $5 million on Cruz's behalf, the most it has devoted to a single race, and gave $1 million to him directly.
In November's general election, the group is targeting only one Pennsylvania congressional race: the 12th District, in which Republican Keith Rothfus, an Edgeworth attorney, will try to unseat Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown.
The Critz-Rothfus race is considered a toss-up, according to Washington analyst Stuart Rothenberg, publisher of the Rothenberg Report. How much the Club will donate to Rothfus remains to be seen, Rothenberg said.
Mike Mikus, spokesman for Critz, considers the Club's endorsement "a negative for Mr. Rothfus."
"(Club for Growth) supports unfair trade deals that ship jobs overseas," Mikus said. "People here want fair trade, not free trade."
Jon Raso, a spokesman for Rothfus, called Mikus' charge "another shameful attempt (by Critz) to deceive the people of Western Pennsylvania" and distract them from failed economic policies that Critz supported. Critz's support of President Obama's policies helped ship jobs overseas, Raso said.
The Club's reputation in political circles comes from its willingness to thin the Republican herd and the success of its former president, Sen. Pat Toomey of Lehigh County, a businessman and former U.S. House member before his election two years ago to the Senate.
'Improve the gene pool'
In 2004, Toomey came within 17,000 votes of beating Sen. Arlen Specter in a Republican primary even though the GOP establishment, including President George W. Bush and then-Sen. Rick Santorum, supported Specter.
The Club considered Specter a Republican-in-name-only, or "RINO," and a liberal Republican who had to go, said Barney Keller, Club's spokesman. By 2010, Specter changed his party registration to Democrat and lost the primary to former Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak. Toomey, who was the Club's president from 2005 through 2009, defeated Sestak in the general election. The Club for Growth spent $2.6 million on Toomey's behalf.
Toomey's near-upset of Specter eight years ago was the prelude to the Tea Party movement and the first big battle in a GOP civil war, Philadelphia magazine said in its July edition. That campaign, the magazine said, made
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