Ryan Shows Fundraising Vigor Amid Retirement Concerns

Ryan Shows Fundraising Vigor Amid Retirement Concerns
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Ryan Shows Fundraising Vigor Amid Retirement Concerns
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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Paul Ryan headlined three fundraisers for Republican congressional candidates in Washington Wednesday, a demonstration of strength a week after his surprise retirement announcement set off concerns about whether the speaker could continue his pace as the House GOP’s top fundraiser.

Ryan headlined an event for Debbie Lesko, a state senator running in an Arizona special election next week, that was expected to bring in around $70,000 for her campaign, according to sources familiar with the event.

“Early voting is looking good, but they’re throwing all this money at her, they’re throwing everything at her,” Ryan said in his brief remarks, according to audio obtained by RealClearPolitics. “It’s Tuesday, so she needs to get money in and money out, money in and money out.”

National Republicans have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the race, hoping to prevent another special election defeat after losing a similar race in Pennsylvania last month.

Ryan also headlined fundraisers for Reps. Steve Chabot of Ohio and French Hill of Arkansas, two incumbents being targeted by Democrats this fall. The events were expected to bring in around $80,000 combined, according to a source familiar with the planning who requested anonymity to discuss private events. Chabot and Hill were each outraised by a Democratic opponent in the first three months of 2018 and are likely to face competitive re-elections.

When Ryan announced his retirement last week, some Republicans worried that his fundraising efforts would slow down as a lame-duck speaker, or speculated that donors would consider the House majority lost and would shift their money toward protecting the Senate. The events Wednesday were intended to show the Wisconsin Republican remains an asset to the GOP majority.

Hill, in an interview with RCP, called Ryan a “prodigious fundraiser” and said he expected the speaker to continue his pace through the fall.

“He has an outstanding network around the country connected with his leadership both as speaker and serving as our party’s nominee as vice president,” Hill said. “In my view, most people want not only for Paul Ryan to be a successful speaker through the end of his term but they also want our Republican majority to be successful. I think he’ll keep the pace up.”

Hill had a strong fundraising quarter to start the year, but Clarke Tucker, a Democratic state lawmaker who recently entered the race, outpaced him by pulling in more than half a million dollars. Democrats added Tucker to their “Red to Blue” program for top challengers, and the Cook Political Report moved the race from “Likely Republican” to “Leans Republican,” one step above a tossup.

Hill said he wasn’t concerned, pointing out that Tucker faces a primary and saying much of the Democratic money comes from outside the district.

“It’s indicative of energy for Democratic candidates but it’s not indicative of the outcome,” Hill said.

Chabot, for his part, raised only about a quarter the amount of his Democratic opponent, Aftab Pureval, in a district Donald Trump won by less than seven percentage points. In a recent blog post on his campaign website, Chabot said he is “gearing up for a tough fight” but is confident in his race.

The fundraisers came a day after Ryan assured the full GOP conference that his efforts wouldn’t diminish following his retirement announcement. Ryan has transferred $40 million to Republicans’ campaign committee this cycle, a record for a speaker, and has held 70 events for individual members, hauling in nearly $6 million directly to their campaigns.

Rep. Mike Coffman, a vulnerable GOP member in a suburban Colorado district, said upon exiting the meeting that Ryan made a compelling case for himself.

“He was just on a conference call with a network of donors across the country, assuring them of his commitment,” Coffman said. “He said he felt that there was absolutely a feeling of confidence among them.”

Last week, Ryan brushed off questions of whether he should leave the speakership early, or whether his fundraising numbers would dip in his final months on the job.

“There is nobody who’s come close to being able to raise the kinds of funds I have and still can raise for this majority,” Ryan said. “It makes no sense to take the biggest fundraiser off the field. And I think most of our members see it that way as well.”

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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