Paul Ryan-Backed Super PAC Is Not Taking 2018 for Granted

Congressional Leadership Fund using hyper-localized approach to engage with voters well before November

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan / Getty Images
April 10, 2018

A political action committee affiliated with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) is investing heavily in media and early voter engagement, working to ensure that the Republican Party performs well in the first mid-term election of Donald Trump's presidency.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Super PAC seeking to retain a GOP majority in the House of Representatives, over the weekend launched its first "Super Saturday" effort of 2018. The effort, a national day of action across the group's 31 field offices, included door-to-door voter outreach to build a long-term community infrastructure that could be relied upon for Election Day in November.

CLF wants to disrupt the conventional methods that political groups use to bolster candidates and causes. Instead of parachuting into districts weeks before the general election, CLF is laying the groundwork months and years in advance. At the heart of this strategy is a unique field program, which uses a hyper-localized approach for engaging with voters.

The Washington Free Beacon attended a "Super Saturday" event in New Jersey's third congressional district.

Democrats' quest to retake the House goes straight through areas like the Garden State's third district. Encompassing the Philadelphia suburbs of New Jersey, the district voted for Barack Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, before supporting President Trump in 2016. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, has labeled the district as a prime pickup.

The third district's incumbent representative, Republican Tom MacArthur, is facing a challenge from a number of Democrats who seek to make the race a referendum on his relationship with the president. MacArthur, first elected in 2014, has been a strong supporter of the Trump administration's efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. He was also the only member of New Jersey's congressional delegation to vote in favor of the GOP tax reform plan.

The Cook Political Report recently shifted the race from "likely Republican" to "lean Republican."

At CLF's New Jersey field office, volunteers spent extensive time pitching MacArthur's work on veteran affairs, the opioid crisis, and his efforts to exempt a local military base from funding cuts to the district's voters. The issues are of vital importance to local residents, according to CLF-commissioned surveys.

CLF's ground operation has already engaged with eight million voters across the country. This past Saturday alone, the group contacted 323,017 voters.

CLF executive director Corry Bliss said in a statement that his team is committed to using data to ensure voters are being engaged on the issues that affect them the most.

"This successful Super Saturday demonstrates that CLF's hyper-targeted, data-driven ground game has been in full effect since February 2017 and will be an effective tool in maintaining the Republican majority in 2018," Bliss said. "As we get closer to Election Day, our team will continue to engage with voters and share how their member of Congress is working on their behalf."

CLF's early investment in building an extensive field program is only half of its strategy for ensuring there is a GOP speaker next year. The other half is ensuring that enough money is raised to bolster Republicans running in swing districts across the country.

In the first quarter of 2018, CLF broke its own fundraising records by raising $15 million. The haul is 10 times the amount that the organization raised for the same time period in 2016. As of early April, the organization had more than $25 million cash on hand, dwarfing the $1.9 million that CLF had on hand in the same quarter of 2016. The strong fundraising numbers put the group well within reach of its goals of raising and spending $100 million, double its 2016 total, to back House Republicans in their effort to keep the majority.

In 2016, the organization raised and spent $50 million in support of Republican candidates for 30 House seats—only three of which resulted in GOP losses. The group spent the majority of its funds, $36 million, on media and digital advertising.

CLF invested millions of dollars in multiple special congressional elections last year to elect Republicans, including Greg Gianforte in Montana and Karen Handel in Georgia.

CLF's early investment strategy acknowledges the difficult circumstances facing House Republicans as they attempt to protect their majority.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won 23 congressional districts currently held by Republican representatives. Democrats only need to flip 24 seats to capture the House majority. Hampering matters further for House Republicans are the incumbents either retiring or running for another office—38 people as of early April, who help ensure that there will be at least 56 vacated House seats this election cycle.

Polling has also shown Democrats hold a single-digit lead over Republicans on the generic congressional ballot.

House Republicans are not only handicapped by mass retirements and an unfavorable environment; they are also running against history. Over the past century, every single president, except for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and George W. Bush, has witnessed their party lose seats in the House during their first mid-term election in office.

In addition, the Democratic Party's base has shown that it is increasingly mobilized and eager to rebuke Trump in November.

George Gilmore, chairman of the Ocean County Republican Committee—where MacArthur's district is based—told the Free Beacon that Republicans would be smart to take the challenge posed by Democrats soberly.

"Historically the first mid-term election of a new administration is not friendly to the president's party. This is even more so when incumbents become complacent and don't take their opponents seriously," Gilmore said. "Luckily that is not the case here in Ocean County with Reps. MacArthur and Smith."

"I would caution any Republican candidate or group from taking the threat of the return of Nancy Pelosi as House speaker lightly."