Eye on Lansing Conservative group running anti-Rep. Upton ads Group targets incumbent Republicans seen as insufficiently conservative

By Kathy Barks Hoffman

AP Political Writer

LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Taking a page from a previously successful playbook, a Washington group began running ads Tuesday accusing Republican Fred Upton of being a "liberal congressman" in an attempt to ease the way for a more conservative challenger to win his seat.

It's a replay of a tactic that Club for Growth used in Michigan in 2006 to help minister and former state lawmaker Tim Walberg beat U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz in the GOP primary in southern Michigan's 7th District. The group makes a practice of targeting incumbent Republicans it views as insufficiently conservative on tax and economic issues.

Walberg argued that Schwarz was too liberal for the district and stressed his support for lower taxes, the protection of traditional marriage and anti-abortion views. Club for Growth pumped more than $1 million into the race, running a series of ads against Schwarz, a Battle Creek doctor and former state senator.

Now, the group is taking on Upton, a 58-year-old St. Joseph resident who has represented southwest Michigan in the U.S. House for 25 years. Club for Growth hasn't endorsed anyone so far, but it met in November with former state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, who lost the 2010 GOP 6th District primary to Upton by only 14 percentage points despite being vastly outspent.

Hoogendyk said he plans to announce within a week if he's running, noting it would be an "enormous help" if Club for Growth got involved in the race.

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said that while Upton got a tally of 85 on the group's 2010 scorecard, his lifetime mark is only 54 percent.

"He had a Republican primary challenger, and all of a sudden he started voting conservative," Keller said. "When you look at the entirety of Fred Upton's record, it's a very liberal record."

The 30-second ad never mentions that Upton now is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he has often criticized the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama and voted against its initiatives on health care and a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions.

Although he successfully pushed legislation in 2007 to phase out use of incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient bulbs, Upton voted last year to repeal the measure after it became a rallying point for conservative talk show hosts and bloggers. He also voted in line with his fellow Republicans on the 12-member congressional supercommittee that tried last year to come up with ways to shrink the federal deficit.

His move to the right has drawn a potential Democratic opponent, Portage resident John Waltz, a Navy veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Waltz said Upton's policies "are being completely driven by the tea party."

Despite that, the Club for Growth ad finds plenty to complain about. It focuses on the congressman's votes to bail out the financial industry, raise the federal debt ceiling and support past congressional earmarks, which now aren't allowed.

"Fred Upton's been wasting our tax dollars in Washington for 25 long years," the ad says. "That's enough."

Upton spokeswoman Meghan Kolassa said Upton voted to ban earmarks. She noted that Washington groups on both sides of the political spectrum have targeted the congressman in the past year.

"DC liberal groups say Fred is too conservative and DC conservative groups say Fred is too liberal, and all are pouring in tens of thousands of dollars for ads that twist the truth against Fred," she said.

Schwarz, who served with Upton for two years and has known him for many more, criticized the ad.

"It's not only offensive, it's unfair and it's untrue," Schwarz said. "If Hoogendyk runs against Upton and has the support of Club for Growth, I know a number of people -- myself among them -- who will be marching at Upton's side."

Upton may prove a tougher target to defeat than Schwarz. The grandson of a Whirlpool Corp. founder, Upton was listed last summer by Roll Call as the 43rd richest member of Congress, worth more than $7.9 million -- deep pockets to counter any Hoogendyk challenge.

Upton isn't the only target of the cable TV ads. Club for Growth Action and Club for Growth PAC collectively will spend more than $500,000 over the next two weeks targeting Upton, Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy and Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who's running for an open U.S. Senate seat. It also has run ads against Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and Orrin Hatch of Utah.

Published: Thu, Jan 5, 2012