Indiana Senate: Is Stutzman Still the Club for Growth’s Guy?

by Nathan L. Gonzales December 28, 2015 · 9:00 AM EST

The Club for Growth endorsed GOP Rep. Marlin Stutzman in the Indiana Senate race this summer, but the congressman was a glaring omission from the anti-tax group’s end-of-the-year fundraising email.

The email from Club President David McIntosh highlighted House candidates Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Duncan of North Carolina, GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis (who is running for the Senate in Florida), as well as Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania. But there was no mention of Stutzman, who has a 93 percent lifetime rating with the Club.

It’s true that Republican Sens. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah have been endorsed by the Club and were not mentioned in the email. But Stutzman’s absence comes in the wake of a significant shakeup among his campaign team.

“Throughout the campaign season, the Club’s PACs shift priorities among the endorsed candidates, especially as new ones are added,” Club for Growth Communications Director Doug Sachtleben told Roll Call. “At times the focus is on direct bundling by the Club’s PAC to candidates and at other times by supporting independent expenditures through CFG Action. So, not every endorsed candidate is included in every bundling email that goes out.”

“Marlin Stutzman remains the Club PAC’s endorsed candidate in the Indiana Senate race,” Sachtleben added.

The Club considers many factors when supporting a candidate, including the campaign’s infrastructure.

At the beginning of the campaign, Stutzman hired former NRSC veterans Rob Jesmer and Terry Nelson of FP1 Strategies for media, general consultant Brooks Kochvar of GS Strategy Group, and others, in what was perceived to be a sign that the congressman was willing to upgrade and broaden his team for his second statewide bid.

But since October, Stutzman has undergone close to a complete overhaul of his campaign. The congressman is now using Indiana-based Mark It Red, which worked on his previous House and Senate races, and media consultant Rex Elsass of The Strategy Group Company. Elsass is a polarizing figure in the world of Republican consultants.

There is some concern among sources who prefer Stutzman’s record that the congressman’s new team isn’t strong enough to win a competitive statewide race.

The congressman faces fellow GOP Rep. Todd Young (who has a 68 percent lifetime rating with the Club) and former state GOP chairman Eric Holcomb in the May 3 Republican primary. Republican Sen. Dan Coats is not seeking re-election.

The Club’s support could be crucial for Stutzman, who trailed Young in available campaign cash by more than $1 million at the end of September. (Holcomb had $295,000.)

Even though the Club isn’t pulling back its endorsement at this point, this email looks like a public warning shot to Stutzman, who needs to re-inspire confidence in his campaign in order to be the recipient of outside help that once looked inevitable.