Republican U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon could face a primary challenge next year if the Club for Growth gets its way.
The anti-spending group last year helped state Treasurer Richard Mourdock unseat U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary, and now says it wants Bucshon replaced by a more strident conservative.
The group launched a website called PrimaryMyCongressman.com. It lists Bucshon and eight others who are in seats their party is strongly favored to keep as “RINOs” – short for Republicans in name only.
On the website, Bucshon is blasted for voting to continue ethanol subsidies, to keep the National Labor Relations Board and more. The two-term Indiana congressman’s lifetime rating of 68 percent on the Club for Growth’s scorecard is highlighted.
“Big government liberals inhabit the Democratic Party, but they are far too common within the Republican Party as well,” said Club for Growth president Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman who now leads the national group.
“The Republicans helped pass billions of dollars in tax increases and they have repeatedly voted against efforts by fiscal conservatives to limit government. PrimaryMyCongressman.com will serve as a tool to hold opponents of economic freedom and limited government accountable for their actions.”
The Club for Growth’s move comes as hard-line conservative groups battle with organizations such as Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project, which are advocating pragmatic approaches in light of several stinging 2012 losses – including Mourdock’s.
The website lists what the Club for Growth considers Bucshon’s bad votes. Among them is his support for a deal to increase the federal debt ceiling. He served on a joint House-Senate conference committee that negotiated a transportation funding deal that the group also criticizes.
Bucshon’s office shrugged off the Club for Growth’s criticism, pointing out that in 2012 he voted with the organization more often than did U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, last year’s Republican vice presidential nominee.
His office also touted an award Thursday from the American Conservative Union. The chairman of that group, Al Cardenas, said Bucshon “shows a consistent commitment to conservative principles.”
“Club for Growth is a Washington, D.C.-based organization that certainly has a right to their opinion,” said Bucshon spokesman Nick McGee.
“Dr. Bucshon has a strong conservative voting record and was successfully reelected by a 10 percent margin in his last election,” he said.
“He has confidence his constituents in Indiana will continue to assess his record of consistently fighting to cut spending, keep taxes low, bring good paying jobs to Hoosiers, and reform healthcare and not rely on a D.C. based organization to assess it for them.”
Although the PrimaryMyCongressman.com website includes a button for viewers to “recommend an opponent,” no one has announced a primary or general election bid against Bucshon.
Still, he’s used to both. Bucshon emerged from a crowded field of contenders to win the GOP nomination, and then survived a one-on-one matchup with that year’s second-place finisher, Owen County activist Kristi Risk, in 2012.
Democrats have targeted the seat, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee including it in the group’s “Red to Blue” program the last two elections. However, neither former state Rep. Trent Van Haaften nor former state Rep. Dave Crooks ultimately came close to defeating Bucshon.
Indiana Democratic Party chairman Dan Parker quickly sought to use the Club for Growth’s move as a fundraising tool, blasting an email out Wednesday to the party’s supporters that highlighted PrimaryMyCongressman.com.
“This is exactly what Republicans did to Richard Lugar last year. You’d think they’d have learned their lesson,” Parker wrote. “We keep hearing Republicans are on a mission to unite their party and attract new voters, but it looks to us like they’re still in self-destruct mode.”
Some Indiana Republicans, meanwhile, rushed to Bucshon’s defense.
“Bucshon is a bright pragmatist who has made a quick name for himself in Congress, particularly in his role as a leader on matters pertaining to finding solutions to improve our nation’s transportation and infrastructure system,” Mike O’Brien, the Hendricks County GOP chairman and former Gov. Mitch Daniels aide, wrote in a blog post.
“The formula used by the Club is particularly rigid and ignores the unique political realities of Indiana’s long-embattled 8th District.”