Rival Advocacy Groups Contend over GOP candidates.(NATION)

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Club for Growth - a group that advocates a tax-cutting, pro-free-market agenda - made a splash two years ago when it put $350,000 behind a conservative state legislator in the primaries and almost defeated a 20-year incumbent, Republican Rep. Marge Roukema of New Jersey.

This year, the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group of more than 60 middle-of-the-road Republicans in Congress, fought back. They helped successfully defend Rep. Sherwood Boehlert in New York's 23rd Congressional District and Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest in Maryland's 1st District from club-backed conservative challengers in the Sept. 10 primaries.

"It's the first time the GOP moderates have taken on high-financed, single-issue special-interest groups head to head, and we're pleased with our effort," said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, executive director of the partnership.

Two years ago, the partnership, whose members describe themselves as fiscal conservatives but "socially compassionate," had limited ability to affect campaigns, spending only about $5,000 in Rep. Rick Lazio's bid for the U.S. Senate seat from New York. This year, the partnership, through both its hard money and soft money funds, plans to spend between $1.2 million and $1.5 million to promote and protect its members.

In general elections this year, the Main Street Partnership plans to support its members who face difficult races - Reps. Constance A. Morella in Maryland, Nancy L. Johnson in Connecticut, Jim Leach in Iowa and Charles Bass in New Hampshire.

"Our first goal is to be good Republicans and after that is to protect moderates," Mrs. Resnick said.

They see their main opponent as the Club for Growth, another relative newcomer that tries to promote conservative alternatives in districts held by Republicans who, in their view, aren't committed to President Reagan's vision of lower taxes and smaller government.

Stephen Moore, president of the club, admitted Tuesday wasn't the best day for the group. But he said the club's message of holding "moderate Republicans' feet to the fire" still got through.

"One of the ways you do that is to take them on, knowing in most cases they're not going to be defeated. …