By Keegan Gibson and Geoffrey Middleberg
A new year, a new headache for Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Allegheny). The fiscally conservative hard-liners at the Club for Growth announced Tuesday that it will air a pair of 15 second television ads against the Congressman over his support of “card check” and certain spending measures.
A Republican media consultant with ties to Murphy said the ad buy totalled about $38,000 in the Pittsburgh media market, entirely on Fox News over the next three weeks. A Club spokesperson would not confirm the details of the buy. It follows a half-a-million dollar pro-Murphy TV and radio ad buy by the American Chemistry Council, scheduled to conclude Wednesday.
It’s another sign that national conservatives are taking a serious look at targeting Murphy. It’s also a boost for Evan Feinberg, Murphy’s announced primary challenger who is a former staffer for the Heritage Foundation and Sens. Tom Coburn and Rand Paul. Feinberg has celebrated by tweeting about the ads 13 times since they were announced a few hours ago.
A Feinberg campaign spokesman said the ads came as a surprise, due to rules that prevent interest groups from coordinating with candidates.
Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club, said the group had not officially designated Murphy a target in 2012, but, “we’re watching the race closely.”
“We’re aware of the primary challenge to Congressman Murphy,” he said.
One Republican source who has worked with C4G said the buy indicated their interest. “They don’t take a swing at a hornets’ nest unless they intend to take it down,” he said.
The financial support of national conservative groups like the Club for Growth will be a key part of Feinberg’s strategy. He’s also gotten the attention of RedState, a popular conservative blog.
Murphy, meanwhile, released the following statement touting his conservative credentials:
“It’s unfortunate that a group from Washington, DC is misinformed and cherry picking votes to mischaracterize Congressman Murphy’s conservative record in Congress,” said campaign manager James Genovese (former CM for Raja’s Allegheny Executive campaign).
“Those who know Congressman Murphy’s record the best, which are his constituents right here in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, continually elect him by wide margins because they want him to keep on fighting the liberal Obama-Pelosi agenda, and keep standing up for conservative Southwestern Pennsylvania values.”
His campaign boasted Murphy’s 100% pro-life and pro-gun rights voting record, and noted that he opposed the stimulus, Cap-and-Trade, Wall Street bailouts and ‘Obamacare.’ His moderate votes, say supporters, reflect the labor-heavy nature of the district.
One ad criticizes Murphy for his vote in favor of the “card check” legislation in 2007. The legislation, supporters assert, would make it easier for employees to unionize in the workplace by eliminating secret ballot elections on the question to unionize. The legislation, as argued by conservative Republicans, is an example of the perils of a Democratic majority in Washington.
There were serious attempts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act when the Democrats controlled the House, Senate and the White House. The bill passed the house, but, the votes were not there in the Senate and with the Republicans controlling the House now, talk of passage of the bill has cooled off.
The other ad takes on Tim Murphy for voting for earmarks including the oft criticized “Bridge To Nowhere” in Alaska that was put in a 2005 appropriations bill.
The Bridge to Nowhere came to represent the Republican mishandling of the House and many experts believe that pork barrel projects such as the “Bridge to Nowhere” were one of several PR missteps that led to the Democrats taking back the House in 2006. The vote in favor was overwhelming, including the current President of Club for Growth, Chris Chocola.
“Last time I checked, Chris Chocola isn’t running for Congress in the 18th district of Pennsylvania,” said Keller. He said the Murphy’s supporters were bringing that fact up to his his “liberal voting record.”
Critics of Club for Growth note that its endorsed candidates have a mixed record of winning general elections. Club-backed candidates lost several GOP seats in 2008: Tim Walberg defeated an incumbent Republican in 2006 in MI-7; Bill Sali cleared a crowded primary field in ID-1 in 2006; and Andy Harris beat incumbent GOP Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the MD-1 primary in 2008. (Walberg and Harris each won his rematch in 2010).
Perhaps most damaging was the Club’s effort to defeat Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island in 2006. Conservative challenger Steve Laffey, with the support of C4G, came within a few points of Chafee and left him depleted for the general, which he lost to Sheldon Whitehouse. Republicans lost control of the U.S. Senate by a single vote in 2006.
The office of Sen. Pat Toomey, who served as CEO of the Club for Growth during the 2006 and 2008 cycles, did not respond to a request for comment. Toomey has indicated he will stay neutral in the primary.
The ads are part of a three-pronged push also targeting Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) and Texas Senate hopeful David Dewhurst, reports The Hill.