With FL, IA Races in Play, Ryan's PAC Ponies Up
House Speaker Paul Ryan’s super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, announced Tuesday that it reserved $1 million in television ads in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for two-term incumbent Rep. Rod Blum and a mid-six-figure amount for Maria Salazar, who is running against former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala in South Florida’s 27th Congressional District. Just a few months ago, these seats had been written off as flipping from red to blue; however, the combination of strengthening poll results in both districts and a narrowing of the overall enthusiasm gap has put them back into play.
Miami-based FL-27 was supposed to be an easy pickup for the Democrats after 15-term Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen announced her retirement. This is a district that Hillary Clinton won by almost 20 percentage points and is nearly 57 percent Hispanic. Throughout the campaign, Shalala, 77, has been criticized for her low-energy campaign style -- with even Democrats complaining that she was in “sleep-mode.” Salazar, 56, is a well-known Spanish-language TV newswoman and a native of the district. She’s effectively landed punches on her opponent as being a carpetbagger who doesn’t speak Spanish and who won’t be effective in Washington. In an Oct. 6 Mason-Dixon Telemundo 51 poll, Salazar had a two-point lead, which is well within the survey’s four-point margin of error. RealClearPolitics rates the race as a toss-up.
The CLF’s Spanish-television spot goes after Shalala over a 2006 janitor strike at the University of Miami where Shalala was president at the time. During the nine-week strike, the janitors wanted a wage increase and the ability to unionize. At the time, they were paid less than $7 per hour while Shalala lived in a $9 million house provided by the university. Shalala responded by saying she proudly has received the endorsement of almost every major union, including one representing the janitors.
A similar story is playing out in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District where Rep. Rod Blum had been all but abandoned by the GOP. This is a district Barack Obama carried twice but Donald Trump won by four points. Blum is running against a 29-year-old state Rep. Abby Finkenauer. She’s been consistently leading in public polls; however, five days ago a survey showed them in a statistical dead heat with Blum at 43 percent and Finkenauer at 44 percent. (RCP rates the race as “Leans Democratic.”)
The CLF’s negative ad is from the standard GOP playbook of linking a liberal candidate to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Career politician Abby Finkenauer is one of Iowa’s most liberal legislators, and Nancy Pelosi is backing her because she’d vote the same way in Congress,” said Courtney Alexander, CLF communications director. Unlike almost 60 Democrats who have vowed to not back Pelosi for speaker, Finkenauer has accepted campaign donations from the California congresswoman while not committing to whether she would support Pelosi as speaker.
With the election 21 days away, many races are tightening and an investment based on internal polling from the CLF is a sign these races are in play.