Club for Growth Spent $1 Million in NY-23. Is This a Bad Omen for the GOP in 2010?

The Atlantic’s Chris Good has an interesting breakdown on who spent what on New York’s hotly contested 23rd congressional district race. The big news: the Club for Growth spent more than $1 million in support of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman. That’s slightly less than the $1.1 million the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chipped in behalf of Democrat Bill Owens. Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee spent roughly $897,000—mostly on ads directly challenging Owens, as opposed to building up Dede Scozzafava, a moderate Republican who dropped out of the race over the weekend.

With polls set to close around 9 p.m. ET, the big question is whether the Club for Growth’s money and support—along with high-profile endorsements from 2012 hopefuls Sarah Palin and Tim Pawlenty—was enough to push Hoffmann over the edge. ***UPDATE: We now know it wasn't.** But in Washington, many Republicans are already looking at the bigger picture of what a Hoffman victory might mean for other closely contested GOP races next year. It’s not just about a philosophical war between moderates and conservatives over how the party should move forward. It’s about money and manpower at a time when the NRCC is trying to cut into the Democrats’ majority control of the House. Will independent groups like the Club for Growth try to repeat their methods in other tight GOP contests next year and what does that mean for the NRCC’s own operation, particularly in terms of money? Cash is already tight for House Republicans, who are being outspent and outraised by their Democratic counterparts. The last thing GOP aides say the party needs is an internecine war when Republicans should be focusing their resources in fighting Democrats.

There are two schools of spin coming from the GOP tonight. One, NY-23 was a rare instance where national interests converged into one local race, and it won’t be repeated. “The Club for Growth doesn’t have the money to compete everywhere,” a House GOP strategist, who spoke about the race on background, told NEWSWEEK. This source points out the group is already planning to dedicate significant resources to Pennsylvania’s Senate race, where former Club for Growth president Pat Toomey will face either Arlen Specter or Joe Sestak next year. And the club is also looking at the looming GOP primary fight between Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio in Florida. “They simply don’t have the resources to make every fight a NY-23,” this strategist said.

Yet other Republicans with close ties to the NRCC admit they aren’t so confident, citing the nearly $300,000 in contributions from small donors the Club for Growth was able to quickly bundle on Hoffman’s behalf. They acknowledge the club versus the GOP isn’t a new phenomenon, considering the group has been active in campaigning against Republican nominees before. The difference, says one GOP insider, is the feelings of hostility among grassroots conservatives toward Republicans in Washington. “There’s not just an anti-Obama feeling out there,” this Republican said. “There’s an anti-Washington, anti-establishment movement, which targets the national party, too…It could be a real problem for us." 

What does all of this mean? No matter the outcome tonight in New York, your Gaggler wouldn't be surprised to hear about peace talks between the NRCC or other national party officials and the Club for Growth and other conservative groups actively planning to influence the 2010 races.

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