The low-tax, small-government advocates at Club for Growth is starting an advertising campaign attacking presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden’s education agenda for shunning school choice. It’s a far cry from the supply-side issues Club for Growth usually trumpets, but the conservative group, which once opposed President Trump, is hammering his critics this election year.
The club’s political evolution has undergone a dramatic change in the Trump era even as its policy agenda hews to conservative goals.
The club was skeptical of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012 but largely kept its criticisms quiet, especially compared to 2016, when the club spent millions of dollars opposing Mr. Trump’s candidacy.
This year, it is working to reelect the president and has waged bitter ad campaigns beating down Trump critics such as Mr. Romney, who now represents Utah in the Senate. The group also fought Democrats wanting to impeach and remove Mr. Trump from office.
Ripping Mr. Biden’s plans for education is an uncommon target for the group, but Club for Growth President David McIntosh said it is part of a larger effort by the club to define Mr. Biden. A potential Biden administration stands in the way of everything the club wants to accomplish, so it is mounting an all-out assault on the former vice president.
“Part of it is a realization that education has become one of the top issues for people now in their personal lives in the election,” Mr. McIntosh said of the club’s new focus. “And part of it is we’ve always been huge champions of the parental choice approach.”
Mr. McIntosh said his group’s polling in July found education was a top two or three motivating issue for Mr. Trump’s base, which prompted the club to call an election year audible.
The group’s new $5 million ad campaign debuted Monday in the battleground states of Arizona, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on cable and broadcast television and online. It focuses on school choice during the coronavirus pandemic, as many public schools plan to stay closed to start the academic year.
“Even with hundreds of schools closing independently, Biden opposes emergency parental choice grants, preventing parents from choosing options like private tutoring or charter schools if their public school is closed,” a narrator says in the 30-second ad. “A lost year is unacceptable, but four under Biden? That’s a lost generation.”
While school choice is not a bread-and-butter issue for the conservative group, Club for Growth co-founder Stephen Moore said he thinks the issue is a kitchen table concern for all Americans and every Republican should run their campaigns on it.
Mr. Moore, who now runs the Committee to Unleash Prosperity that advocates for greater economic reopening, said he was thrilled with the club’s plan.
“I just think this is a silver bullet issue for the Republicans,” Mr. Moore said. “This is a magic moment for school choice. It is a moment where people are finally seeing just how destructive to our educational system that the teachers unions are.”
The teachers unions do not intend to let the attack go unanswered.
The American Federation of Teachers bought $2 million in ads attacking Republicans in June and in July. The ads have run in 10 states, including Arizona and Pennsylvania but not Wisconsin, but are primarily focused on Senate Republicans, not the presidential race. AFT, which boasts 1.7 million members, endorsed Mr. Biden at its convention last week.
“Joe Biden has spent his career championing the values of strong public schools and higher education; understanding that healthcare and college are rights, not privileges; and that a strong labor and civil rights movement is essential if we are to have true justice, opportunity and the freedom to live,” reads AFT’s resolution endorsing Mr. Biden.
The Biden campaign did not respond to request for comment on the Club for Growth’s new ad campaign. Mr. Biden has avoided much discussion of school choice in campaign appearances, as it’s not part of the Democratic Party platform. He has previously said he is “not a charter school fan,” which Mr. Trump’s campaign clipped and turned into an ad in July.
Mr. Biden’s education plans include more money and benefits for educators, adding health professionals in schools, and spending more on public education in poor and non-White districts, according to details of Mr. Biden’s plans posted on his website in May.
Mr. McIntosh said Mr. Biden is too beholden to special interests, which has helped make the school choice issue a clear winner in his mind for conservatives.
Much in the same way that Mr. Trump used judicial issues to attract skeptical voters in 2016, the Club for Growth intends to use the data it collected to identify issues that will similarly attract skeptical voters in 2020.
Mr. McIntosh plans to develop other issue-oriented campaigns aimed at defining Mr. Biden in the months to come.
“He makes special announcements to the special interests,” Mr. McIntosh said of Mr. Biden’s campaign strategy. “We’re going to force him to live up to the issues.”
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