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Move over, Sarah Palin; Club for Growth is the new rainmaker in conservative 'tea party' country

May 20, 2010 |  9:49 am

2008 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Sarah Palin Speaks in Wisconsin by Joshua Lott, Getty Images 

Club for Growth is a leading free-market group that promotes limited government and no tax hikes.

And, increasingly, the Washington-based advocacy group is a political force to be reckoned with in Republican circles. Oh, sure, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is still a rock star among the party faithful.

But Palin is a personality, the fresh new face of the 2008 campaign. In 2010, Club for Growth is an advocacy group dedicated to lower taxes, tort reform, and fiscally responsible government spending -- just the issues voters are angry about. In that environment, an endorsement from Club for Growth and its deep-pocketed political action committee can mean money, momentum and lately, a hint of inevitability.

In Massachusetts, Club for Growth publicly scolded the Republican National Committee for not pouring money into Republican Scott Brown's campaign to beat Democrat Martha Coakley, who ran under the Ted Kennedy brand.

“I would have to think all hands are on deck in Massachusetts,” said spokesman Michael Connolly.  “If they aren’t, then there are more problems at the RNC than people think. They have a responsibility to get this guy elected.” The Club for Growth deployed a lot of resources. Brown won.

In Florida, Club for Growth backed Republican Marco Rubio in the primary, helping him pile up such....

...a huge lead that popular Gov. Charlie Crist, who had embraced President Obama's $787-billion stimulus plan, left the Republican Party to run as an Independent.

And in Utah, Club for Growth was instrumental in defeating incumbent Republican Robert Bennett. In fact the organization's campaign against Bennett was so robust it drew a tongue-lashing from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"I wish the Club for Growth would spend as much time and energy to defeat liberal Democrats as they do dividing Republicans," Gingrich told reporters in Salt Lake City. "I try to defeat liberal Democrats. I don't spend much time trying to defeat Republicans."

Some argue this record hardly makes Club for Growth a new behind-the-scenes power. After all, Coakley and Bennett both had problems as candidates, and might well have lost anyway. As for Crist, his shoulder hug for Obama's economic programs was always an irritant in GOP politics.

But in coming races, this bulwark of fiscal conservatives could have big impact on the outcome.

Wednesday, the group endorsed Sharron Angle, a former member of the Nevada Assembly, who is running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Angle is among a field of candidates -- topped by former state Sen. Sue Lowden,  who has been slipping in the polls since suggesting that Americans could cut healthcare costs by bartering with their doctors -- who want to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, considered one of the most vulnerable of the Democratic incumbents.

"Sharron Angle is the true economic conservative in the Nevada Senate race," said Club for Growth President Chris Chocolaa in announcing the endorsement. "Sharron Angle is everything a pro-growth, limited-government, economic conservative can be, and everything Washington and the country need right now.”

Here's a  list of the other candidates being backed by Club for Growth's political action committee. Might be fun to check back in November and see just how influential they were -- or at least how deft in gauging the political zeitgeist and picking the winners.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Palin on the 2008 campaign trail. Credit: Joshua Lott / Getty Images

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