So why is the Club for Growth, the influential free-market economic political advocacy group, pouring money into the Schwarz/Walberg race?
Schwarz has always been vulnerable in his long Michigan political career as a social liberal. But it is his fiscal record in this, his first term in Congress, that has incensed conservative players like Club for Growth — and allowed Walberg to open a two-front war on his opponent.
“Walberg scored a coup by winning both of the big endorsements in this race: Right to Life and Club for Growth,” says veteran Michigan political observer Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan politics. Club for Growth has even created a website called joeschwarzisaliberal.com, which rips Schwarz for being soft on tax cuts, ANWAR, property rights, and pork spending.
“Club for Growth has painted Schwarz as the Ted Stevens ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ big spender,” says Ballenger. With the heavyweight social and fiscal endorsements in Walberg’s corner, Ballenger expects him to be the man to beat Tuesday.
Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell agrees. He contends Schwarz’s first-term was likely a fluke anyway. In a conservative district that featured five conservative candidates — including Walberg — splitting the conservative vote in 2004, Schwarz — the sixth candidate and lone lib — emerged the winner even though he garnered just 27.7 percent of the vote.
This time, Walberg is running as the lone conservative.
Schwarz scoffs at the notion that he is out of step with his party’s conservative agenda. He boasts of co-sponsoring bills to repeal the “Death Tax,” as well as his votes for Bush’s tax cuts and against “cut and run” bills for withdrawal from Iraq. And his endorsement list is topped by the party’s two biggest names: President Bush and John McCain.
But given Walberg’s perfect conservative rating, it may not be enough. As one GOP aide, Schwarz-supporter Jason Brewer, told the Detroit Free Press: “Republican base voters are just unhappy right now. Joe’s being tarred and feathered with all the things about spending and scandal that are going on in Washington.”
“For Republican Party primary voters, this guy Walberg is the perfect candidate” to target says political expert Ballenger.
– Henry Payne is a freelance writer in Detroit and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.