First on CNN: Paul Ryan super PAC benefits from Trump worries
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Republican donors worried Donald Trump’s campaign is putting the House of Representatives in play are writing checks to the super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, fueling a record-breaking haul this cycle.
“There is uncertainly at the top of the ticket and we have a significant group of donors who want to make sure that the House is a firewall,” Mike Shields, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund told CNN.
Almost doubling the amount they spent in the 2014 midterms, the group announced that so far it has invested $20.2 million in efforts to protect the majority during the 2016 cycle, including $10.7 million this month reserving for a second round of television and digital ad buys by the group in about a dozen House races. “We’re not done yet,” Shields said.
Multiple Republican sources told CNN the reason the outside group is pulling in more money this year is because donors are more comfortable with the wonky House speaker than the unpredictable billionaire nominee and want to ensure Ryan keeps his gavel. Some contributors who previously focused their attention on the presidential ticket are sitting out that contest and helping congressional candidates because of worries about the party’s chances this fall.
Since it was created in 2011 to support then-Speaker John Boehner, the House GOP super PAC has badly trailed its Democratic counterpart — the House Majority PAC — in fundraising. In the 2014 midterms House Majority PAC raised $38 million to CLF’s $11.6 million. Earlier this summer the House Majority PAC announced it was already near the $20 million mark so these latest numbers show that CLF is trying to stay competitive.
Shields said that the group has also benefitted from its close ties to Ryan. Those who have given to Ryan’s own political entities have also given money to the speaker’s super PAC because the group bolsters his ability to remain the party’s top agenda setter. The speaker’s work on his policy agenda, dubbed “a Better Way,” helps with attracting support from donors, who want some real answers to what the party will do and are frustrated with Trump’s lack of specifics.
The new numbers announced by the GOP super PAC will be welcome news to the National Republican Congressional Committee, which was outraised nearly 3-to-1 by the House Democrats’ political arm in July.
Many of the districts included in the latest ad buy are places where the Congressional Leadership Fund has already spent some resources. They include several open seats: in a district north of New York City where GOP Rep. Chris Gibson is retiring, in the suburban Philadelphia district where Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick is retiring, and likely the seat of retiring Nevada Rep. Joe Heck, who is running for Senate. The group is also investing in efforts to oust a couple of Democrats — California Rep. Ami Bera and Nebraska Rep. Brad Ashford.
They are also helping some Republican incumbents who Democrats are working hard to frame as Trump backers, like Texas Rep. William Hurd, New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, and Iowa Rep. David Young.
The group’s latest cash infusion will use micro-targeting to customize the messages in about a dozen House districts. Data gathered by two outside firms will allow the super PAC to craft ads that remind voters that whatever they think about the battle for president, there is a Republican candidate in their district who is speaking to the issues they care about.
Despite some Republicans fretting Trump could hurt House Republicans, especially those with significant numbers of Latino voters, internal party polling in many competitive races shows that while Clinton is ahead of Trump, GOP candidates are outperforming their own nominee.
Shields told CNN the goal is to invest enough money into districts where existing support can be reinforced closer to voting time and remind voters about congressional races, which haven’t received as much attention as the presidential race. Referring to those Republicans in swing areas he said “we can help them survive whatever happens at the top of the ballot and that’s our mission.”
Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told donors this summer that the Republican nominee is putting more seats in some suburban areas in play.
The DCCC spent $1 million dollars in July in digital ads that argued several swing district GOP candidates were on board with controversial comments by the business mogul. But Shields argued that the Democratic presidential nominee is as much of a factor, and told CNN “Hillary Clinton is a very easy target and we will tie her and her policies to the Democrats who are running for Congress.” It’s also likely new ads will link Democratic candidates with their current top leader, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a tactic used regularly in recent House contests.
House Republicans are dismissive of recent assertions from top Democrats, including last week from Pelosi, that Democrats could ride Clinton’s coattails this fall to win back control of the House. But Shields acknowledged the public debate about the chamber being at risk — something no one seriously believed was possible at the outset of the cycle — is helping his group bring in more money.