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Club for Growth on fence


WASHINGTON — The conservative Club for Growth has gone from bankrolling Douglas L. Hoffman's congressional campaign to sitting on the fence about his candidacy.

In the six months since the Club for Growth's political action committee steered more than $250,000 toward Mr. Hoffman's insurgent special-election campaign, the group has turned its attention to other candidates around the country and might not even make an endorsement in the 23rd Congressional District.

"It's hard to say" whether the group will back Mr. Hoffman or anyone else in the campaign to unseat Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said the Club for Growth's spokesman, Mike Connolly.

The Club for Growth latched onto Mr. Hoffman because of his small-government approach and his opposition to earmarks, the projects sponsored by lawmakers that find their way into spending bills. The group directed more than $250,000 in bundled individual contributions to Mr. Hoffman's campaign, becoming his greatest source of funding in a campaign that topped $1 million.

The group also spent $133,431 in independent expenditures on Mr. Hoffman's behalf, the Center for Responsive Politics reported.

Mr. Owens won the special election in November to succeed Republican John M. McHugh, who had resigned to become secretary of the Army.

Although the seat is considered competitive by political analysts, and Democrats face a much tougher political atmosphere than a year ago, Mr. Hoffman is no longer the center of the Club for Growth's attention.

For one, all House seats are up for election this fall, so Mr. Hoffman has to compete with other candidates in other races who may be more promising. The Cook Political Report rates the 23rd Congressional District as leaning Democratic, while 26 seats held by Democrats are rated as tossups, as of April 15.

The Rothenberg Political Report lists the district as "Democrat favored," as of April 10.

Both reports are nonpartisan congressional analyses.

The nature of the race is different this time, as well, with Republicans choosing their candidate through a traditional primary rather than the meeting of GOP committee heads from various counties. The GOP contest looks to be a two-way race between Mr. Hoffman and Matthew A. Doheny, a businessman from Watertown, and Mr. Hoffman has not made clear whether he will drop out if Mr. Doheny receives the nomination.

Finally, Mr. Hoffman has been slow to raise money on his own, which might not encourage the Club for Growth's PAC to send much money his way right away. He raised $113,634 since Jan. 1, well behind the $417,496 raised by Mr. Owens and the $514,050 Mr. Doheny collected.

Mr. Connolly declined to comment at length on those distinctions and any bearing they might have on an endorsement. But he did say of the relatively closed candidate selection process in the special election, "That certainly played a role in our decision to get involved in the race in 2009."

The Club for Growth has been busy making endorsements generally, however. The group's PAC has made 11 endorsements in House and Senate races, in South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kansas and Pennsylvania.

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