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« Dem Surprises In MS | Blog Home Page | Mitchell Leads Dem Poll »

Club Bats .500

An increasingly aggressive Club for Growth went one-for-two last night as Republican primary voters headed to the polls in Pennsylvania. The conservative anti-tax group spent thousands on behalf of two candidates in the state, one running to replace retiring Rep. John Peterson and one running for the right to face Democratic Rep. Chris Carney in November.

In Carney's Tenth District, based north of Scranton, Chris Hackett emerged the winner in a Republican primary that featured two wealthy businessmen. The Club for Growth backed Hackett and spent more than $60,000 on advertisements slamming his opponent, Dan Meuser. That amount was a drop in the bucket, though, compared with the amount each candidate spent from their own wallets. Hackett gave $590,000 to his own cause through March 31, while Meuser loaned himself nearly $929,000.

Hackett now goes on to face Carney in a district that gave President Bush a 20-point margin in 2004. Carney won the district in 2006 after beating incumbent Republican Don Sherwood, who got himself in trouble when police in Washington responded to a domestic disturbance complaint between Sherwood, who is married, and a woman who claimed to have been his mistress for five years. Still, Carney won by just a 53%-47% margin. This year, Carney has prepared for a stiff challenge, with more than $966,000 in the bank through April 2. But while Hackett's war chest is likely tapped after the primary, his ability to loan himself more money and backing from the Club, which can bundle contributions on his behalf, should make him financially competitive, and quickly.

Carney's district, based near Scranton, where Hillary Clinton has deep roots, voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic presidential contender. While Scranton itself voted three-to-one for the New York Senator, surrounding counties based in Carney's district gave her percentages ranging from the low to the mid-60s.

In Peterson's Fifth District, a geographically sprawling area that stretches from State College in the middle of Pennsylvania north to the border, Club-backed candidate Matt Shaner, a developer, finished third to local Republican Party chairman and nursing home director Glenn Thompson in an incredibly narrow race. The Club spent more than $72,000 in the contest on Shaner's behalf, running ads in the final days that hit candidates Jeff Stroehmann and Derek Walker.

Thompson, unscathed amid the bitter primary, won 19.5% of the vote to take the GOP nomination. Walker finished second, just 14 votes ahead of Shaner at around 17.5%, and Stroehmann finished fourth with 13.6%. Five other candidates failed to break double digits. Thompson will face Clearfield County Commissioner Mark McCracken, who won the Democratic primary with 41%, in November.

Close to 71,000 Democrats turned out to vote in a district that gave President Bush a 22-point margin in 2004, while nearly 69,000 Republicans cast ballots. Democrats turned out for the presidential contest, while Republicans had no similar top of the ticket race to drive up their numbers. Hillary Clinton won all but one of the district's fifteen counties; the one she lost, by a 60%-40% margin, was Centre County, where Penn State University is based.

Republicans suggest that Obama's loss in Pennsylvania could be trouble should he become the Democratic nominee. "Barack Obama's abysmal performance last night in some of Pennsylvania's swing congressional districts should be taken as a terrible sign for Democrat incumbents," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain told Politics Nation. "Should he become the Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama's disdain for gun-owning, church-going Pennsylvanians could potentially create a huge drag on Democrats running down-ballot." Carney's and Peterson's districts are largely white rural voters, a segment of the population with whom Obama has had serious trouble making inroads.

For the Club for Growth, news last night was mixed, though their intense focus on House races so early in the cycle suggests they are plotting to play a more active role throughout the year. So far, the Club has already seen one of their candidates beat an incumbent Republican, when State Senator Andy Harris beat Maryland Republican Wayne Gilchrest in February. The group is also running ads in Louisiana, Alabama and California, and is likely to play in a Colorado primary as well.

Of course, Pennsylvania has a special place in Club for Growth President Pat Toomey's heart: He's a former member of Congress from the state, and came within a few thousand votes of knocking off Senator Arlen Specter in the GOP primary in 2004.