POLITICS: PennAve

Club For Growth crowdsources endorsement --- with caution

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The Club for Growth on Wednesday announced its first crowdsourced political endorsement, calling it “the first time in history” a political group had “used the Internet to solicit a viable primary challenger to an incumbent member of Congress.” Chris Chocola, the group’s president, said the Club endorsed Bryan Smith, an Idaho Republican, after his name came up “in a significant way” in public submissions to the website PrimaryMyCongessman.com.

Smith will try to position himself as the more conservative candidate in a race against incumbent and fellow Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, an ally of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. While it is endorsing Smith, the Club for Growth has not yet decided whether to provide him with the full financial heft it has provided to other, more conventional candidates. And “it’s too early to tell” whether the group will allow the public to choose a second Republican primary candidate in another congressional race, Chocola told the Washington Examiner.

“We have a pretty exhaustive process that we go through because we want to make sure that the candidate that we’re considering supporting is a real fiscal conservative and has a reasonable chance of success,” Chocola said.

In Smith’s case, the group didn’t rely solely on public opinion in making its endorsement. It interviewed Smith in Washington in May and then polled the district to determine how Smith would fare in a match-up against Simpson.

The Club for Growth has been a powerful force in Republican primaries before. In 2012, the group endorsed Richard Mourdock, who beat incumbent Sen. Dick Lugar in a primary before being defeated himself in the general election.

The group’s political heft is due in no small part to the massive amounts of money it commits to its races: Mourdock received $1.7 million in independent expenditures from the Club for Growth during his successful primary bid.

But the group offered no such guarantee that it would spend money directly to support Smith.

“We’ll do everything we can to support him. As far as a bundling effort, it’s a full effort beginning today,” Chocola said. But, he added, “I don’t know what we’ll do yet on independent expenditures.”

Prior to the Club for Growth’s official endorsement, Smith raised $149,400 in the second quarter, according to his campaign.

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