The intraparty war between congressional Republican leadership and the conservative Club for Growth appears to have simmered down for now, even while the race between U.S. Reps. David Schweikert and Ben Quayle is growing fiercer.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner this week agreed to give Schweikert a contribution from his PAC to compensate for a contribution he made earlier to his primary rival Quayle.
According to Schweikert consultant Chris Baker, Boehner told Schweikert that he’d cut him a check from the Republican leadership PAC about an hour and a half after receiving a letter from the Club for Growth demanding equal treatment for the two candidates.
“We think it’s terrific. We welcome the check. We welcome the support. We are very pleased that Speaker Boehner decided to make a donation to David’s campaign,” Baker said.
In the March 21 letter, Club for Growth President Chris Chocola told Boehner, along with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy, that the club would use its PAC to raise money for Schweikert if Republican leadership didn’t stay neutral in the heated primary for Arizona’s 6th Congressional District.
Chocola made it clear that neutrality meant giving Schweikert the same $10,000 the PAC gave Quayle last year, before redistricting led to the intraparty battle between two incumbent freshmen.
Schweikert spokeswoman Rachel Semmel said Boehner agreed to contribute $5,000 to Schweikert’s campaign.
Chocola chastised Boehner for leadership’s support of Illinois Congressman Don Manzullo against fellow incumbent Adam Kinzinger, whom the club viewed as the more conservative of two candidates. While he said Quayle and Schweikert were both “pro-growth candidates,” Chocola said he worried that House leadership was once again interfering in a primary. He said the club would stay neutral in CD6, but only if leadership agreed to as well.
“Should it become apparent that you are choosing sides on behalf of Rep. Quayle, the Club for Growth PAC will consider it necessary to intervene on behalf of Rep. Schweikert. As is our practice, if the club’s PAC entered this primary, it is highly likely that our 75,000 members would donate considerably more funds to Rep. Schweikert’s campaign than the Republican House leadership would contribute to Rep. Quayle’s campaign,” Chocola wrote.
Quayle shot back at the Club for Growth the next day, noting that he has a better rating with the club than Schweikert does and recently voted against a measure supported by both President Obama and GOP leadership to extend the federal payroll tax cut, a bill that Schweikert supported. He also criticized the club’s threats to Republican leaders, and asked whether the club would also send a “cease-and-desist” letter to U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, who is supporting Quayle over Schweikert.
“I was not aware that the Club’s mission includes dictating to high-ranking officials who they may and may not support. It’s ironic that an organization founded in principles of freedom and limited government could have come to such a dictatorial turn,” Quayle wrote.
While both congressmen are have conservative records in their short time in the House, GOP leadership appears to favor Quayle while the Club for Growth appears to prefer Schweikert, whom it supported in his 2008 and 2010 campaigns.
In 2011, Schweikert was a member of McCarthy’s whip team but was forced out after switching his vote on an issue important to leadership. Earlier this month, congressmen from both sides of the aisle accused leadership of showing favoritism for Quayle by having him sponsor a bipartisan bill that was nearly identical to an earlier bill sponsored by a Connecticut Democrat.
Meanwhile, the club said it wants to stay neutral in the hotly contested CD6 primary. But the pro-Schweikert letter highlighted the club’s clear ties to Schweikert, as well as to Baker. On March 1, Andy Roth, the club’s vice president of governmental affairs, responded on his Twitter account to someone who noted Quayle’s superior rating with the club by saying, “Schweikert is a leader. Quayle is not.”
Schweikert quickly painted the incident as a symbol of him standing up against the Beltway establishment.
“The powerful anti-tax group Club for Growth fired a warning shot across the deck of the Washington establishment,” a March 21 fundraising email from the Schweikert campaign read. “David Schweikert has always had the courage to stand up for our shared conservative principles, even when members of his own party are on the other side.”
Baker said Schweikert voted with leadership – as well as Obama – for extending the payroll tax cut because it was the best of two bad options. He said it was an example of Schweikert standing up for his principles, and referred to Quayle as “go-along-to-get-along” congressman who is in leadership’s good graces.
Quayle campaign spokesman Jay Heiler, however, referred to Chocola’s letter as “amusing.”
“The Club for Growth is many people, not just Mr. Chocola. I suspect Mr. Chocola acted out of a combination of irritation toward House leadership over a race in a different state … and some cross-pollination between Dave’s staff and club staff,” Heiler said.
Republican political consultant Nathan Sproul said the fight between the Club for Growth and House GOP leadership isn’t a battle between two factions on behalf of their favored candidates.
“Schweikert and Quayle are exhibit A in the dust-up between the (National Republican Congressional Committee) and the Club for Growth,” Sproul said. “Clearly there is more going on behind the scenes than what that letter represents. … Ultimately, what they’re saying is let’s have a cease-fire between the NRCC and the Club for Growth.”
Former Arizona Republican Party Chairman Mike Hellon predicted that grassroots activists in the state would largely be supporters of Schweikert, a longtime fixture in Arizona GOP politics, while “social establishment Republicans” will follow Boehner and Kyl in backing Quayle, the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle who was politically unknown before announcing his candidacy in 2010.
Hellon said there is little to separate Quayle and Schweikert in terms of policy or politics.
“This is a who-you-like-most race,” Hellon said.
In the endorsement race, Schweikert has a longer list while Quayle has the biggest name. Schweikert, a former legislator and county treasurer who ran his first congressional race in 1994, already has the support of a handful of state lawmakers and the mayor of Scottsdale. Quayle has Kyl, a GOP heavyweight who commands massive support in the business community.
Others dismissed the establishment-versus-grassroots description of the race. Republican consultant Sean Noble said Quayle has plenty of support among grassroots activists and precinct committeemen. Noble said there will be some high-profile endorsements on both sides, but predicted that a lot of Republicans would stay neutral in the race, a rare matchup between two Arizona GOP incumbents.
“They’re both congressmen so they both have something of value. But I think that you’re going to see a situation where a lot of people stay on the sidelines,” he said.
Some of the lawmakers who have already endorsed Schweikert say they backed him because they’ve known him for years.
“I don’t see it as anything against Congressman Quayle. My decision certainly wasn’t anti-Quayle. It was pro-David, and that’s because I’ve known David for probably 15 years now,” said Sen. Michele Reagan, a Republican from Scottsdale, where Schweikert has lived much of his life.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the choice to endorse Schweikert was easy for him because he’s known the congressman for more than a decade. But he said some Republicans may favor Schweikert because Quayle technically moved into the heavily GOP district to run against him. Quayle’s home is near the district boundary, but he lives just inside the 9th Congressional District, a numerically competitive district with strong Democratic candidates.
Quayle said he chose CD6 because it includes far more of his current constituents than Schweikert’s. Schweikert countered by labeling Quayle a carpetbagger.
But Kavanagh said Quayle’s district switch may be dimming support for him among local Republicans. The party is best served, he said, if both incumbents run in the districts where they live.
“If Quayle doesn’t run where he lives now, that seat might go Democrat. And he’s got the best chance of defending the Republican position there,” Kavanagh said. “I think a lot of people are concerned that he’s jeopardizing a Republican congressional seat that we need very much.”
Sproul said a lot of Arizona Republicans will have split loyalties. But he predicted that big-money donors, including many who backed Schweikert in 2010, will throw their support behind Quayle, largely because of his name and family connections.
“I think Ben Quayle has turned out to be a good congressman. He deserves a lot of credit for that. Schweikert is scrappy fighter who understands constituent services better than anyone,” Sproul said. “The key question is going to be where does the donor community in the state of Arizona go, and my hunch is that they’re going to gravitate more toward Quayle.”