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Facing Smith, from the right

We’ve been viewing the subject of a from-the-right primary challenge to Republican Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, a topic arising periodically on blogs both left and right, with interest but not with the thought that anything critical is happening, yet. At least one name has surfaced – activist and initiative organizer Bill Sizemore – but even that prospect has simply been in the kicking-it-around stage.

Club for Growth Oregon Until now. Now, a post on Blue Oregon points out, Club for Growth is getting into the picture, notably with the establishment this month of Club for Growth Oregon. And that could change everything.

Oregonians haven’t seen it a lot, but Club for Growth may be the single most serious player nationally in support of hard-conservative campaigns. It’s not too much to say it is the biggest reason that, across the border in Idaho, Bill Sali is now in the U.S. House – Club for Growth threw in masses of support for him, millions of dollars and much more backing besides. When he seemed to be in trouble, they redoubled their efforts for him and against his opponents, Republicans and Democrats. The Club’s role in the Sali campaign was the topic of much discussion, brought up even more (in debates, speeches and elsewhere) by Sali’s Republican opponents than by Democratic. The story was similar in Club-backed races elsewhere; it is, for example, why Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee nearly lost his primary to a much more conservative challenger in what may be the most liberal state in the country. And there were a bunch of additional cases in 2006. The Club is solidly Republican, but it sees Republicans who violate its definition of conservatism as no better than Democrats, maybe worse, and ripe for attack.

The Oregon site so far mentions only statehouse politics and legislative actions, and it may become somewhat involved on that level. But the Club for Growth has only one credible reason for paying serious attention to Oregon in this cycle, and that would be going after Gordon Smith.

Smith’s Republican apostasy is limited mostly to his changing views and votes on Iraq, though there are some other elements to it, such as support of an increased cigarette tax. (For the most part, Smith has been a loyal Republican caucus member and on other matters usually supportive of the Bush Administration.) He has also does such things as question the pace of gas price increases (which the Club dismisses as “crazy talk”); he is one of two Senate Republicans in the Club’s “economic hall of shame”.

But as he has emerged on the national political radar in recent months, the publicity has painted a bright target on his back – a red flag in front of the charging bull that is the Club.

As Kari Chisholm notes on Blue Oregon, the Club’s annual winter conference is underway now – just as all the primary challenge talk is gearing up (these factors likely not being coincidental). An additional tidbit from the Club’s description of the event: “Joining the Club for Growth for its policy forums are declared or potential presidential candidates former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Kansas Senator Sam Brownback; and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Arizona Senator John McCain was invited to attend, but declined.” Recall, please, that Smith has endorsed McCain for president.

Up to this point, we’d regarded a Smith primary as a possibility, and maybe of interest, but speculative. Today, we’ll say flatly: Smith will be primaried from the right, and the attack will be ferocious.

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