The Club for Growth has forsaken its core principles, according to Wisconsin Senate hopeful Eric Hovde, who says the group is attacking him not because of his ideology, but “largely because of personal connections” with another candidate in the race.
An influential and well-funded small-government advocacy group, the Club has been championing one of Hovde’s opponents in the Republican primary, former Rep. Mark Neumann. Last week, after polls showed Hovde ousting Neumann from second place, the group began running attack ads against Hovde.
As Hovde notes, several Club for Growth staffers formerly worked for Neumann.
“You know, I thought the Club for Growth was supposed to be about the philosophy instead of personal relationships,” Hovde told The Daily Caller in a phone interview, “but that’s all it’s come down to.”
“So, to say the least, as a conservative and free market conservative, I’m incredibly disappointed in the Club for Growth’s decision.”
The Club for Growth has also been relentlessly attacking Tommy Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor who remains the front-runner in the race, because of his past support for the individual mandate and the Affordable Care Act. Polls suggest the attacks have been successful, with Thompson’s ratings taking a hit.
But Hovde says that the Club’s attacks on his candidacy are likely to help Thompson.
“All they’re going to do, if they’re successful in their attacks against me – they’re not going to elect Mark Neumann because he’s unelectable in the state – all they’re going to do is elect Governor Thompson, who’s, in my view, a big government Republican, and I think it’s just a wrongheaded decision,” Hovde said.
Moreover, Hovde said, in the aftermath of the state’s recall election last month, Wisconsin voters have grown sick of negative ads.
“I’ve been trying to stay on the issues the whole time because in this state, people are worn out of attack ads. They saw what happened to Scott Walker, and we’ve just been under siege of negative advertisements, so I don’t even know if all it’s going do is backfire in [the Club for Growth’s] face.” Hovde added.
Hovde has yet to respond to the attacks, which focus on a $500 donation to former Democratic governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle, as well as comments that he once made that, as someone who was very well-off, he would be willing to pay higher taxes.
“I haven’t aired any ads at this point that have gone negative … any ad that I’ve done has been extremely positive. At some point, will we have to potentially rebut this? Yes. We haven’t made our final decision which direction we’re heading in that regard,” Hovde said.
In fact, Hovde created an ad – “Eric Hovde response to negative attack from Mark Neumann” – that goes negative on Neumann, attacking him for voting to increase the debt ceiling and attacking Gov. Scott Walker when he was running against him in the primary, among other things.
“We believe there is a difference between ads that lie and distort the truth and ads that point out a career candidate’s record using only facts,” explained Hovde Press Secretary Sean Lansing.
Hovde called the specific allegations meaningless and pointed out that, while he may personally be “willing to” pay higher taxes on his own income, he has “always argued for lower taxes” as a matter of policy. He also said that he has given “close to $150,000 to Republicans and conservatives,” and was “a big financial backer” of Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
“And they’re hitting me for one $500 check that I gave to a governor of the state back in 2005 that, frankly, I can’t even remember,” Hovde said.
When asked about his comment about paying higher taxes, Hovde said he benefited from policies that allow “certain special interests” to be “taxed at capital gains rates, when anybody else that were generating fees like that would be at an ordinary income rate.”
“I’ve been talking about endlessly — that I think we need to lower rates and get rid of all the corporate welfare,” he said.
“It sounds like Eric Hovde is upset over the fact that we exposed his support for tax increases and for the king of tax hikes, former Wisconsin Democratic Governor Jim Doyle,” responded Club for Growth Communications Director Barney Keller. “Hey, Eric Hovde: Welcome to the NFL.”