Club For Growth: Conservatives Lost Nothing In N.Y.

The Club for Growth strongly supported and financially helped Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York's 23 Congressional District. That support led the Republican candidate to withdraw, and throw her weight behind the ultimate winner: Democrat Bill Owens. Club for Growth President Chris Chocola says, from a conservative standpoint, there was no loss.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The Club for Growth is a fiscally conservative political organization that supports low taxes and limited government. It actively opposed the original Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava in the New York 23rd District and supported her conservative rival Doug Hoffman.

The Club for Growth spent about a million dollars on that race and the club's president, Chris Chocola, who's a former Republican congressman from Indiana, joins us now by phone. Hi, welcome to the program.

Mr. CHRIS CHOCOLA (President, Club for Growth): Great to be here with you, Robert. Thanks.

SIEGEL: Some conservative voters in upstate New York said today that even losing the seat is a plus for them because it punishes the Republicans for nominating someone so unconservative as Dede Scozzafava. Do you agree with that logic?

Mr. CHOCOLA: I don't know if I agree that it punishes the party establishment, but one of the lessons learned here - and John Cornyn, the chairman of the NRSC, the senatorial committee, said today that his lesson was that contested primaries are a good thing. And I agree with that. I think when the party establishment comes in and they tell the voters what they ought to like, is not a good thing. And we've seen that with Pat Toomey and Arlen Specter. We see that right now in Florida with Marco Rubio and Charlie Christ. So, I think that that lesson is good. I think, you know, our investment in that race, if that's what comes out of it is an effort that's well worth it.

SIEGEL: But do you agree, though, that a Democrat in Congress is better than a Republican like Dede Scozzafava?

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, from a conservative standpoint, conservatives really lost nothing last night. You would've gotten essentially the same type of policymaker if it was either Dede Scozzafava or Owens. Now, she might've voted for a Republican speaker once. I'm not sure she would have twice because, you know, she showed her true stripes, I think, when she endorsed the Democrat.

SIEGEL: But what do you say to the argument that when Republicans enjoyed the majority in the House of Representatives, that majority included Chris Shays from Connecticut, included Jim Leach from Iowa and their votes helped make the Republican the speaker and Republicans chairs of all the committees?

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, that's fine. I served in the House at that time, and, you know, I really do believe that when Republicans campaign and they govern as conservatives - fiscal conservatives - they win. I think the center of the electorate is essentially for a limited government and they're socially tolerant. And when people run as unapologetic supporters of pro-growth policies, free markets and they reflect their districts on social issues, they're going to win a lot more than they're going to lose. And when Republicans learn that lesson, I think that they can build a sustainable majority. But the reality is Republicans lost the majority with that makeup.

SIEGEL: So, your prescription for the Republican Party is take candidates on - with whatever they say about same-sex marriage or abortion. But when it comes to something like the Obama stimulus plan or whatever health care plan emerges from Washington, they ought to be against that to enjoy your support.

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, we are not - the Club for Growth is not a Republican organization. All we focus on strictly are economic issues because we think pro-growth policy leads to prosperity, which everyone benefits from. And so, we believe the American is - the American population is still center right. And that issues like limited government, personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility are not fringe issues.

SIEGEL: But how, then, do you explain a district like New York 23, which has been Republican for about as long as there's been a Republican Party, losing when the candidate was so conservative when he stood for exactly what you're describing?

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, this was an extraordinary circumstance. Doug Hoffman had a long train with a lot of passengers behind him on Election Day and if he had that same long train with a lot of passengers at the beginning of the election, I think it would have been a train that could not have been stopped.

SIEGEL: You don't buy the reading that New York's 23rd District says if the Republicans are the party of tea parties, you could lose safe Republican seats at that rate.

Mr. CHOCOLA: Well, you know, every district is different. Again, I think that you have to look at the fact that the Republican here dropped out of the race and endorsed the Democrat. And that's an extraordinary situation. And, again, if they had had a principled conservative from the very beginning, I think that that would've been a recipe for victory in the end in New York 23.

SIEGEL: Mr. Chocola, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CHOCOLA: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Chris Chocola, a former Republican congressman from Indiana and now the president of the conservative Club for Growth.

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