NPR logo Eating Their Own: Activists From Both Parties Aim At Those Who Stray

Eating Their Own: Activists From Both Parties Aim At Those Who Stray

A lot of attention was focused, deservedly, on last week's congressional race in New York's 23rd District, where a conservative revolt against the anointed Republican nominee helped elect a Democrat to that seat for the first time since the 1870s.

The decision by groups on the right, such as the Club for Growth, to back Doug Hoffman, the Conservative Party candidate, against Republican Dede Scozzafava exposed an ideological faultline in the GOP that has ramifications for 2010. (Washington Post post-election interview with Scozzafava here.)

Yesterday the Club endorsed Marco Rubio, the former speaker of the Florida House, in his Senate primary race against establishment choice Charlie Crist, currently the governor. Club for Growth President Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman, dismissed the notion that their efforts could jeopardize GOP control of the seat:

The Club for Growth PAC has spent months studying this race, and we have concluded that either Charlie Crist or Marco Rubio would be heavily favored to win next November against likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek. The only question now is what kind of Republican will Florida send to Washington next year: a pro-growth Republican with a record of fiscal conservatism or a big-government Republican with a record of tax increases?

Whether the Club can duplicate its House efforts in Senate races remain questionable; Roll Call's John McArdle writes it's much tougher to make a difference in a state as large and expensive as Florida.

Club for Growth is also targeting Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah, a conservative, for his efforts on behalf of the Healthy Americans Act. Chocola said Bennett's bill "is a health care nightmare. Rather than lowering the cost of care by increasing competition, it turns control of our health insurance system over to the government."

Bennett has been targeted by the right for renomination, but got some good news last week when state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, a favorite of conservatives, withdrew from his challenge to Bennett because of the precarious health of his daughter.

Meanwhile, there seems to be a family feud going on in the Democratic Party as well, in the wake of Saturday's House vote on health care. Prior to its passage, Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowed the House to vote on an anti-abortion amendment, sponsored by Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, that would prevent women eligible for government tax credits for health insurance from using that money to enroll in any plan that covers abortion. It passed overwhelmingly, with 64 Democrats on board.

That vote, reports Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence, has enraged abortion-rights activists like Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL ProChoice America, who was in a "fighting mood" during an interview yesterday:

"There's elections coming up in 2010. We will know who stood with us and who stood against us," she told me. The latter, she said, may face primary challenges. "Nothing's off the table," she said. "It's a new day and I'm here to tell you we're going to hold those accountable who voted against us." This would be a departure. According to Keenan, her group has supported a challenger in a Democratic primary only once.

And the PAC sent out a fundraising letter today denouncing the "dozens of conservative House Democrats" who voted against the health-care bill.

We've got to show that voters will make them pay a political price for standing in the way of health care reform—and send a message to any Democrats in the Senate who are considering doing the same.

So we're rushing to launch a major new TV ad campaign in the home districts of the Democrats who voted against the bill—spending more than ever before on ads to hold Democrats accountable. ...

This is a defining moment for the Obama era, because fence-sitting Democrats in Congress are watching carefully to see what happens to those who oppose real change.
If they see that there are no negative consequences for those who voted "no" in the House, it'll become much harder to win a final victory on health care—or on any of the other issues we care so much about.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today he expects the health-care bill to go to the Senate floor next week.