The political action group that propelled former Congressman Bill Sali to brief political fame a decade ago is back at it – this time campaigning on behalf of former state Sen. Russ Fulcher in his bid for the First District congressional seat.
The Club for Growth, a Washington-based conservative organization that has similar free-market views as the Idaho Freedom Foundation, sees Fulcher as “the only conservative” candidate in the First District field, according to Andy Roth, the club’s vice president for government affairs.
Roth praises Fulcher for fighting to cut taxes while opposing Medicaid expansion. “He has been a hero for years, and has a record of being a conservative fighter,” Roth said.
The club, which provided a key factor in former Congressman Bill Sali’s election in 2006, ensures Fulcher of a potentially large funding source in next year’s Republican primary. Fulcher also has support from another national conservative group, Freedom Works, which could add even more funding to his campaign.
Fulcher welcomes the support from these groups in a congressional district that typically favors the most conservative candidates running.
As for the Club for Growth, Fulcher says the organization has a large following. “The Club for Growth has a history of doing its homework, which includes interviewing candidates and checking voting records. So, they know who they are supporting before they ever commit. When they interviewed me, they had more data on my voting record than I recollected, so they understand what they are doing.”
Other candidates are not giving up, nor should they. Those who equate the Idaho Freedom Foundation with contempt won’t be impressed with the Club for Growth. The scramble in this race will be for 54 percent of the voters who are undecided, according to a recent poll from Dan Jones & Associates.
“There will be plenty of endorsements forthcoming in this race,” said David Leroy, a former Idaho lieutenant governor. “I expect that I will get a large share of those, especially valuing those from people and entities based in Idaho.”
Rep. Christy Perry’s campaign states that the club’s endorsement of Fulcher was no surprise. “Our strategy has never been to win the money race and compete with the ‘good ole boys’ and their super PAC money. Christy is running so she can go to Washington to protect the rights of Idahoans while reducing the rules and regulations, which strangle them on a daily basis.”
Roth sees the race as one conservative (Fulcher) going against three moderates (Leroy, Perry and Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene). “I like our chances,” he said.
Regarding Fulcher’s three main opponents, Roth said, “Luke Malek has missed well over 400 votes in the Legislature. But when he felt compelled to show up to vote, it was for liberal efforts such as supporting the Obamacare exchange. He has an F-plus rating with the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Christy Perry’s record is in line with Luke Malek’s. She supported the exchange and she’s supported higher taxes, while opposing legislation that would require a two-thirds majority to pass a tax increase. Leroy is a trial lawyer and lobbyist of a different generation. What we need is a strong conservative voice for economic freedom, and he’s not it.”
Roth says the Club for Growth has a track record of success, supporting the likes of Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, along with many members of the House Freedom Caucus. The club supports chosen candidates only in their initial bids for Congress and has its most success in open-seat races. Roth says the club, which backed Byron Smith three years ago in his failed attempt to unseat Congressman Mike Simpson, has less success against incumbents.
“The Club for Growth’s PAC was founded because we saw that in Republican primaries, the establishment and moderate forces usually have the most money in races because of special interests. The PAC was formed to level the playing field,” Roth said.
In Fulcher’s case, the club’s support may well be his ticket to Congress. Fulcher, who battled for funding and name recognition in his failed bid to unseat Gov. Butch Otter three years ago, has a political Goliath on his side this time.
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Chuck Malloy, a Silver Valley native and longtime Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly and an editorial writer with the Idaho Press-Tribune.