From The Morning Grind
A word of advice if you speak to leaders of the Republican Main Street Partnership. Do not use the word moderate when talking about the organization's politics.
Members prefer being described as centrists, because the moderate tag conjures up thoughts of abortion and gay rights. And Main Street does not take a position on either of these issues.
Instead, the group of over 60 governors, representatives and senators advocates reducing the deficit, cutting taxes, focusing on education as well as environmentally friendly measures. The organization released its "Promise for America" agenda yesterday.
The battle of ideas within the Republican Party has not always been easy for Main Street members, who sometimes find themselves at odds with their own leadership. The latest disagreement was over President Bush's veto of stem cell legislation.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Virginia), who serves as president of the organization, called it "a bad issue to make your first veto" in a recent meeting with a small group of political reporters. But Davis, a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, was very careful not to criticize Bush or Congressional Republican leaders, who are now pushing socially conservative measures under the "American Values Agenda," banner.
"They're doing a great job," Davis said. "They've got to govern. They've got to pull together a tough conference."
It appears, though, that several members of the organization have scored a victory by pressuring the GOP leadership to hold a vote on increasing the minimum wage. The vote will likely take place today, before the House adjourns for the August recess.
Still, while the organization counts anti-abortion rights lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) as one of its members, there are also many others who are considered liberal on social issues. And these members vote that way, much to the heartburn of some Republicans.
"Their whole purpose is to present a more moderate view of Republicanism," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "And to the extent that they disagree with the party leaders or the top leader, the President of the United States, they run the risk of being perceived by party regulars of being disloyal."
One Republican who vocally criticizes Main Street is former Rep. Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania). As the president and CEO of the limited tax, pro-growth Club for Growth, Toomey is working to defeat a handful of his former GOP colleagues such as Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Michigan). A headshot of the freshman lawmaker is featured prominently on the Club's website with a red headline "Joe Schwarz is a liberal." It also has launched a separate website attacking Schwarz, who faces a tough primary challenge on August 8 from a Club backed candidate.
"We don't see it as our mission to elect Republicans, regardless of what they believe in," Toomey said in a recent interview with the Grind. "The Republican Main Street Partnership has decided to try and elect liberal Republicans. What we are dedicated to is a set of principles."
The Club is also playing a prominent role in trying to defeat Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-Rhode Island) in the September 12 Republican primary.
Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of Main Street, contends the Club is being dishonest in saying it only targets people it disagrees with on economic matters. In fact, she claims it specifically goes after lawmakers it doesn't consider conservative enough on social issues.
"The facts speak for themselves," she said. "Of all the Members of Congress and open seat candidates the Club for Growth supported, they only supported one pro choice candidate. To articulate an example, they attacked (Sherwood) Boehlert (R-New York) two years ago and he voted 127 times for tax cuts. He never voted to raise taxes. However, he is pro-choice."
Toomey disputed Chamberlain's assessment that it is a social conservative organization. He called it a "dishonest charge.
"The reason they do this is because they are embarrassed by the economic liberalism of their members," he said.
For his part, Davis is blunt about Main Street's philosophy about challenging incumbent Republicans.
"We don't go after other Republicans," he said. "I believe in being an addition and not being a subtraction."
And Davis said if the GOP wants to maintain control of Congress this year and the White House after 2008, it needs to embrace a big tent philosophy.
"If you want to be a national party, be competitive in all regions, you need to be tolerant," Davis said.
The organization, founded in 1998, is on track to spend $7 million in the November elections, Chamberlain tells the Grind. The group receives funding from likeminded Republicans such as former Rep. Amo Houghton (R-New York) and Robert Ziff of Ziff Brothers Investments.
As for Main Street's attempt to re-brand, Rothenberg said, "One man's centrist is another man's moderate."
(An occasional Morning Grind feature in a series about organizations seeking to influence the 2006 and 2008 elections)