Ryan Sets October Blitz for Down-Ballot Republicans

Ryan Sets October Blitz for Down-Ballot Republicans
Anthony Wahl/The Janesville Gazette via AP
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Paul Ryan plans a 17-state blitz across the country this month to stump for Republicans down the ballot, but it’s unclear whether that campaigning will extend to presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The House speaker, who’s well known nationally as the GOP’s top elected official and its 2012 vice presidential nominee, will visit 42 cities in those 17 states during October, stumping and raising money for House and Senate candidates. It’s a role Ryan is well suited for, given his popularity on the trail in 2012 and his proven ability as a fundraiser, where he has transferred more than $30 million to House Republicans’ campaign arm this year.

It’s also an increasingly necessary task for the speaker given the controversial candidate at the top of the ticket. Few Republicans in re-election races have campaigned with Trump, leaving a void in many of these contests – a sharp contrast to candidates on the Democratic side who have joined Hillary Clinton on the trail, or campaigned with popular Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

While much of Ryan’s effort so far this cycle has focused on raising money for his congressional colleagues, he’ll soon add more public rallies and attention-grabbing visits. Some of Ryan’s focus will be on his home state of Wisconsin, where Sen. Ron Johnson is locked in a tough re-election race and trails former Sen. Russ Feingold in the polls. It’s also where Democrats have targeted a congressional seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Reid Ribble, who is retiring.

He’ll also campaign and raise money for military veterans Jack Bergman, who is running for an open House seat in Michigan; Brian Mast, who is running for an open seat in Florida; and Don Bacon, who is taking on Rep. Brad Ashford in Nebraska. Ryan appeared at a fundraising lunch in August for Bacon that brought in $150,000, the candidate told RealClearPolitics in an interview, and helped bring attention to his challenge.

“Obviously he was a great shot in there arm with resources, but also, even more important than that, leaders know that Paul Ryan, the speaker, is only going to come out in races he thinks are important,” Bacon said. “That also heightened the interest and people saying we better focus on this campaign because Paul Ryan is. It added great credibility and interest in the race."

Ryan will also campaign with vulnerable incumbents in tight re-election races, including Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Will Hurd of Texas, who represent two districts heavily targeted by Democrats.  

“Most see him as a sober leader, a man of ideas, and that stands out in a year like this where the personality and politics of personal insults and really nastiness have occupied so much of the time and the space,” said Curbelo, one of the GOP members of Congress who has said he will not support Trump.

Curbelo added that Ryan is an “invigorating figure that fundamentally appeals to what I think most people in this country really want, which is leaders who focus on ideas and solutions and work hard to achieve them and are working to sit down at the table with people who disagree with them."

In addition to House candidates, Ryan is expected to help incumbent GOP Sens. Roy Blunt in Missouri, Rob Portman in Ohio and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania. Kevin Seifert, the executive director of Ryan’s political organization, said the Wisconsin Republican will spend the month promoting his “Better Way” agenda, a series of policy proposals the speaker hopes to enact in the next Congress.

“Paul Ryan is committed to doing everything possible to help defend and expand Republican Congressional majorities,” Seifert said in a statement. “He is going to finish this election cycle on a strong note – spending October promoting the Better Way agenda and providing tactical support to our hardest-working members and our most promising challengers across the country.”

Still, it remains to be seen whether Ryan will spend any of that time actively campaigning for his party’s presidential candidate. Ryan has been critical of Trump in the past – at first refusing to endorse him, then calling Trump’s comments about a judge with Mexican heritage the “textbook definition of racism.” He also criticized Trump’s attacks on the family of a slain Muslim American soldier in early August.

But as Trump has improved his standing in many polls – he’s trailing by 2.9 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average – Ryan has laid off critiquing the nominee, declining recently  to comment on controversial policy proposals and saying the morning after the first presidential debate that he hadn’t seen Trump criticize a former Miss Universe for gaining weight. 

Ryan also praised Trump following his debate performance against Hillary Clinton, saying in a statement afterward, “The energy that Donald Trump offered tonight is why the enthusiasm is on our side.”

It would represent a departure from past elections if Ryan doesn’t campaign for presidential nominee. Four years ago, then-Speaker John Boehner campaigned vigorously for Mitt Romney and Ryan in the weeks leading up to the election in swing states like Florida and his home state of Ohio, and he appeared at a New Hampshire event for Romney  after the first presidential debate, praising his performance against Obama.

Still, for now, Ryan’s focus is set on helping GOP incumbents and maintaining congressional majorities -- and for most down-ballot Republicans, he’s a welcome presence in an unstable year.

“It’s been a wild election year, but Paul Ryan has been the steady hand – leading the conference and our members right up through Election Day,” Rep. Greg Walden, the chairman of House Republicans’ campaign committee, said in a statement.

James Arkin is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at jarkin@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @JamesArkin.

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