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The Club for Growth 2008

By Salena Zito

Thirteen days ago, a full-page ad questioning the patriotism of Gen. David Petraeus was placed in The New York Times by the liberal anti-war group It added real heat to the 2008 presidential season.

For many liberals, the red-meat issue is ending the war in Iraq.'s tactics have effectively made it the standard-bearer for that issue.

For many conservatives the red meat is the economy, and their standard-bearer is the Club for Growth, led by is president, Pat Toomey.

In an interview, Toomey said that he has no problem taking aggressive positions like, but only within the realm of economics. The club takes no stance on other red-meat issues of the conservative base such as illegal immigration and cultural decay.

Toomey says that in the "issue matrix," the ad generated far more titillation than the full page the Club for Growth took out in The Wall Street Journal calling out Congress' proposed protectionist policies against China. It is a policy that Toomey says echoes the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that helped deepen the Great Depression.

"In time of war, war understandably displaces everything else, but the prospects of our economy are never far behind." Toomey adds that the economy is the spine of the country "so national security ultimately depends entirely on economic security."

Just because the club is all about the numbers it would be a mistake to liken its approach to that of mild-mannered bean-counters. Toomey said he does not back down when it comes to taking on candidates who do not practice fiscal discipline.

For the 2008 campaign, the Club for Growth has already posted on its Web site thoroughly researched "white papers" that inform voters about the economic records of the various candidates for president.

The club focuses on spending, taxes, trade, regulation, school choice and tort reform.

Two GOP presidential candidates that will never get the club's nod are Sen. John McCain and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Toomey calls Huckabee a "serial tax hiker"' and gives McCain multiple wrist slaps for his opposition to the Bush tax cuts, his hostility to repeal of the death tax and his willingness to impose additional federal regulations on the economy.

One candidate who gets "particularly high marks for his accomplishments" from Toomey is former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Toomey said that "Giuliani performed outstanding in a very difficult liberal environment that had big budget deficits and a bloated bureaucracy. He came in and cut taxes, cut spending and sold off city assets. He really accomplished quite a lot considering the very liberal city council he had to deal with."

Toomey does not see the club getting involved with the Republican primary if Giuliani, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney remain the front-runners.

"They have all demonstrated a pretty solid commitment to economic growth," Toomey said. "The only prospect in which I would really want us to step up our activities is if there was a surprising surge from either McCain or Huckabee."

Toomey dismisses the notion that Republicans lack enthusiasm for 2008. He points to the Democrats' big win in 2006 and the fact that they have a clear front-runner in Hillary Clinton as the basis for their energy.

"If Giuliani wins the nomination, he would be a fascinating candidate in the sense that he really re-draws the map," Toomey said.

He points out that Giuliani could carry New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania "so he changes the political calculus of the Electoral College dramatically."

"The unknown challenge with Giuliani," said Toomey, "are the social conservatives."

"Look," laughed Toomey. "Hillary Clinton will energize Republicans like nobody's business ... just wait until they hear Hillary Clinton give her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention next summer."

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at

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