After his overwhelming primary victory in Wisconsin last week, Speaker Paul D. Ryan is hitting the campaign trail to help some of his House Republican colleagues and GOP congressional hopefuls replicate that success.
Ryan will visit eight states between now and the end of August to host fundraisers and bring some of his Republican Party star power to incumbents and newcomers running in House races. Counting events the speaker held in Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington earlier this month, that will bring his August campaign travel total to 12 states, a Ryan political aide told Roll Call.
A powerhouse fundraiser and eloquent speaker with deep policy and political knowledge, Ryan is in high demand among Republican congressional campaigns. While that has been the case since Ryan was named the 2012 vice presidential nominee, the interest in using him as a campaign asset has only increased since he became speaker of the House, said Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“He is sought after in the congressional districts and is fully engaged with the members and our candidates,” the Oregon Republican told Roll Call. “I think people see in Paul a leader with a vision and a future that they want to get to know and hear more from.”
When Ryan visited Oregon this month to campaign with Walden, the speaker raised about $870,000 — several thousand more than what annual fundraising events in previous years have brought in, Walden said.
“Without having the data in front of me, I would hazard a guess that he has broken records for House fundraising wherever he has gone,” the NRCC chairman said.
Team Ryan, the speaker’s joint fundraising committee, reported just under $33 million in contributions for the first six months of 2016, according to Federal Election Commission records. Much of the money Ryan’s committee raises gets transferred to the NRCC, which doles it out to various Republican House candidates.
To understand just how record breaking Ryan’s fundraising is, compare that six-month haul to the money former Speaker John A. Boehner raised for his joint fundraising committee: $35.4 million over the entire two-year 2014 election cycle and $26.6 million over the 2012 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
In addition to events with Walden in Oregon, Ryan campaigned with House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers in Washington and raised money in Nevada for Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for Senate, and Rep. Cresent Hardy, in early August.
Although he had a primary back home to prepare for, the speaker wanted to make time for those members of leadership who have helped drive the party’s agenda and have shown that a Republican majority can govern, the political aide said.
Eight states in two weeks
Ryan’s travels over the next two weeks — six states in mid-August, followed by a break at home in Wisconsin, and stops at the end of the month in Pennsylvania and New York — will focus on helping incumbents in the NRCC’s Patriot Program and newcomers in the Young Guns program, the aide said.
The majority of Ryan’s August campaigning for down-ballot candidates will be through private events and fundraisers, the aide said, but he may take a more public role in the lead-up to the November elections.
At fundraisers, Ryan gets an opportunity to talk about what the House Republican majority has accomplished so far during his tenure as speaker and what it can do in the next Congress. That includes touting the “Better Way” policy agenda focused on taxes, health care, poverty, national security, regulations and the constitution.
The speaker has said frequently that the agenda allows Republicans to run a campaign of ideas, something he acknowledged his campaign with 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney was lacking. While the agenda was formed in large part before Donald Trump was named the GOP standard-bearer, it does provide down-ballot candidates with proposals to attach themselves to that are typically less controversial than many of Trump’s ideas.
“People right now are hungry for a policy discussion,” Walden said, noting that Ryan is uniquely poised to deliver that. “He listens but he can also go as deep as you want to go in the weeds on really any issue.”
While policy is Ryan’s “center of gravity,” Walden said the speaker is also adept at answering the political questions that come his way during fundraisers.
“He’s the full package,” he said. “There isn’t anywhere that we couldn’t send him. He is that versatile and that capable.”
An honor for the Young Guns
The Young Guns, designated by the NRCC as candidates that have the best chance to pick up seats for the GOP, will especially benefit from Ryan’s visits. Not only can he help boost their campaign coffers, but his presence with them in their districts shows that their campaigns have the backing of party leadership.
Ryan kicks off his latest round of travel Wednesday in Nebraska’s 2nd District, campaigning for retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Bacon.
Bacon is challenging Nebraska Rep. Brad Ashford, one of this cycle’s most vulnerable Democrats. Ashford’s campaign ads have failed to mention his party affiliation as he seeks reelection to a district that Romney won by 7 points in 2012.
“Speaker Ryan coming out here will be a shot in the arm, will help us out,” Bacon told Roll Call.
Bacon said he’s honored that the speaker and the party are investing in his campaign — his first run for political office — and what he believes is a winnable seat for the GOP.
Ryan’s “bold vision” for a House Republican majority is something Bacon said he expects the attendees at Wednesday’s event will want to hear him discuss.
“I find that the top issues [in the district] are being addressed by his plan,” he said.
The other Young Gun candidates Ryan will be visiting in this month include Stewart Mills in Minnesota’s 8th District, Brian Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania’s 8th District and Jack Martins in New York’s 3rd District.
“We couldn’t be happier — certainly myself personally and my entire campaign — to have the speaker of the House coming to our district to help us as we work the final three months of this campaign,” Martins told Roll Call.
The New York state senator is running against Democrat Tom Souzzi, a former Nassau County executive, for the open Long Island seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Steve Israel. The race is one of the GOP’s rare offensive opportunities this cycle and its only one in New York.
The Rothenberg & Gonzales Report/Roll Call rates the race as Tilts Democrat, but Republicans are working hard to turn it in their favor. The NRCC has reserved $1.1 million in fall ads for this district — presumably some of which will come from the money Ryan raises there this month.
Ryan’s trip to the district emphasizes the importance of the race — not just the pickup opportunity but the party’s confidence in possibly electing a Republican to a seat that’s been held by a Democrat for at least 16 years, Martins said.
The same issues Ryan has been addressing as part of the House GOP agenda — the need for checks and balances in Washington and a pro-growth agenda that creates jobs and grows the economy — are ones Martins said he’s been discussing in his campaign.
The “Better Way” agenda is “a great response to what has been a disappointing response to the last eight years,” Martins said.
In Pennsylvania’s 8th District, Fitzpatrick is running to replace his brother, retiring Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick. He faces Democrat Steve Santarsiero, who is retiring from the state House of Representatives to seek election to Congress.
“It’s an honor to have Speaker Ryan’s support of this campaign and belief in the importance of bringing Brian’s background as an FBI counterterrorism and anti-corruption special agent to Congress,” Fitzpatrick spokesman Aaron Clark said in a statement.
In Minnesota, Mills is making a second run at Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan in the Democrat-favored 8th District after a narrow loss in 2014.
Packed August follows busy convention
Ryan’s politics-packed August followed a busy week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. He served as permanent chairman of the convention, presiding over some of the floor action, delivered a prime-time speech and introduced vice presidential nominee Mike Pence.
Beyond those moments onstage in Cleveland, Ryan participated in party events for the NRCC, Republican National Committee and for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the political aide said.
The speaker highlighted the House GOP’s policy agenda at breakfasts for the Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Texas, North Carolina, Mississippi and Ohio delegations. He also visited Cleveland area organizations, like Beyond the Walls Church, that exemplify the anti-poverty policies outlined in the “Better Way” agenda.
And in early August between campaign travel, the speaker was back in Wisconsin running his own primary race and spending time with his family. He also carved out time for family vacation after the primary, the aide said. One of Ryan’s conditions for accepting the speakership was that he could maintain a balance between work and family.
Despite a flood of national media interest in his race against the largely unknown Paul Nehlen, Ryan ran a local campaign, visiting businesses in the district, hanging out at county fairs and festivals and holding other local meetings.
The speaker largely ignored the national press in favor of local media during his primary, which he makes time for even outside of the campaign. Since being elected speaker in October, Ryan has balanced his time in the national media spotlight with more than 100 interviews with Wisconsin-based media, the political aide said.
Ryan won his August 9 primary by 68 points. While the wide margin is something many down-ballot candidates may struggle to replicate, Ryan’s help could certainly help give the Republican candidates he’s visiting an edge.
Simone Pathé contributed to this report.