The super PAC affiliated with House Speaker Paul Ryan is opening eight new field offices to protect endangered Republicans, including one high-ranking leader, as the party girds for a brutal midterm election.
The openings by Congressional Leadership Fund are part of a planned $100 million campaign to protect the Republican Party’s 24-seat House majority in November, bringing its total field offices to 27.
This latest round of openings includes the eastern Washington district held by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Republican conference chairman and fourth-ranking party leader in the House.
Eight more offices are on tap to open this year as CLF seeks to boost voter turnout in targeted districts in a political environment made challenging by President Trump’s polarizing leadership.
“These are our most important races,” Corry Bliss, executive director of CLF, told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday.
The super PAC is not yanking support for House Republicans who voted against the federal tax overhaul signed into law by Trump last month, a punishment it administered to a GOP member who opposed the party’s legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.
That’s good news for vulnerable incumbents like Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., who enjoys the support of a previously opened CLF field office. However, Bliss made clear that Lance’s opposition to the tax bill could result in less air cover once the super PAC begins purchasing tens of millions in planned television, radio, digital and direct mail advertising.
“The field program is one tool in our tool belt,” he said. “When we allocate resources this year, heavy preference will go toward those who supported speaker and president’s legislative agenda.”
Trump’s job approval rating has hovered around 40 percent for most of his first year in office — a major hurdle for Republicans on the 2018 ballot. Polling asking voters which party they would prefer to be in control of Congress has favored the Democrats.
The president is popular in many safely drawn Republican seats, and he could still be a net plus for the GOP in key Senate races. But he is underwater in several well-educated, upscale suburban districts that could determine the battle for the House.
Voters in these seats typically vote Republican. Indeed, two years ago, in two dozen of them, Democrat Hillary Clinton defeated Trump in the presidential contest, even as voters there elected Republicans to Congress. Their resistance to the president hasn’t softened since.
That’s reflected in the threatened Republican-held districts where CLF is opening eight new field offices. Among them:
California’s 45th, held by Rep. Mimi Walters; Colorado’s 6th, held by Rep. Mike Coffman; Illinois’ 6th, held by Rep. Peter Roskam; Kentucky’s 6th, held by Rep. Andy Barr; Michigan’s 8th, held by Rep. Mike Bishop; Pennsylvania’s 16th, held by Rep. Lloyd Smucker; and Virginia’s 2nd, held by Rep. Scott Taylor.
Democrats call CLF's moves a concession to the dire straights Republicans find themselves in. "House Republicans are kicking off 2018 on defense, and these new investments prove it," said Meredith Kelly, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "CLF faces a tough sell in defending the House Republicans' agenda to voters."
Under federal law, CLF, as a super PAC, can raise money in unlimited amounts but is prohibited from coordinating with campaigns or the national party. The group’s affiliation with Ryan has spurred millions in donations from Republican contributors.
Bliss modeled CLF’s field operation after the voter turnout operation he built for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, whose re-election campaign he managed in 2016. An in-house data analytics program helps guide his decision making.
Six “captains,” who worked for Bliss on the Portman campaign, oversee the program, which consists of satellite offices in targeted districts run by one full-time staffer who in turn manages teams of volunteers of high school and college students.
The issue messaging, pushed in advertising and field canvassing, are localized to the district, with one exception: All of CLF’s field offices and volunteers will be promoting the federal tax overhaul, which cleared Congress unpopular and without any Democratic votes. Bliss said that selling the bill is crucial to the GOP’s prospects of holding the House.
“It will absolutely be a unifying theme because it doesn’t matter where you live, there’s noting more important to anyone than making a good living and taking care of your family,” Bliss said.
Here is the full roster of members and districts with CLF field offices:
Rep. Jeff Denham, California's 10th
Rep. David Valadao, California's 21st
Rep. Steve Knight, California's 25th
Rep. Ed Royce, California's 39th
Rep. Mimi Walters, California's 45th
Rep. Mike Coffman, Colorado's 6th
Rep. Brian Mast, Florida's 18th
Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Florida's 26th
Rep. Rod Blum, Iowa's 1st
Rep. Peter Roskam, Illinois' 6th
Rep. Mike Bost, Illinois' 12th
Rep. Kevin Yoder, Kansas' 3rd
Rep. Andy Barr, Kentucky's 6th
Rep. Mike Bishop, Michigan's 8th
Rep. Erik Paulsen, Minnesota's 3rd
Rep. Don Bacon, Nebraska's 2nd
Rep. Tom MacArthur, New Jersey's 3rd
Rep. Leonard Lance, New Jersey's 7th
Rep. Claudia Tenney, New York's 22nd
Rep. John Katko, New York's 24th
Rep. Ryan Costello, Pennsylvania's 6th
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania's 8th
Rep. Lloyd Smucker, Pennsylvania's 16th
Rep. John Culberson, Texas' 7th
Rep. Will Hurd, Texas' 23rd
Rep. Scott Taylor, Virginia's 2nd
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington's 5th