Politics & Government

Paul Ryan-aligned super PAC preps for battle in Texas

Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, right, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., conduct a news conference in the Capitol on Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and DACA.
Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, right, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., conduct a news conference in the Capitol on Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and DACA. CQ Roll Call

A super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan is opening two field offices in Texas, aimed at protecting vulnerable incumbent Republicans San Antonio Rep. Will Hurd and Houston area Rep. John Culberson.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won both congressional districts in 2016, and Democrats’ House campaign arm has named Hurd and Culberson top targets in the party’s effort to win control of the House next year.

The Ryan-linked Congressional Leadership Fund, whose goal is to retain the GOP’s House majority, plans to spend $100 million promoting House Republican candidates across the country.

The decision to go into Texas, more than a year ahead of the midterm elections, could pressure Democrats to prioritize other races across the country over the Hurd and Culberson contests.

Cole Leiter, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Democrats were “competing to win” in Texas and trying to make sure congressional Republicans have to defend “seats they never would have imagined would be on the map.”

Hurd and Culberson have several Democratic opponents mounting serious campaigns. Culberson was outraised by two of his Democratic challengers, Alex Triantaphyllis and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, in the third quarter of 2017. National Republicans have raised concerns about Culberson’s fundraising.

The field offices each have one paid staffer to start, who will recruit volunteers for grassroots and door-knocking efforts.

The GOP group has opened 20 offices in targeted districts across the country so far, aimed at targeting a small number of persuadable voters who could determine the outcome of the most competitive House races. Its staff and volunteers say they have knocked on 3 million doors in the districts where offices are already up and running.

The Congressional Leadership Fund spent more than $6 million on a special House election in Georgia earlier this year. The group attacked Democrat Jon Ossoff relentlessly in that race, tying him to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel.

Corry Bliss, executive director of the group, said it would repeat that same strategy in both Hurd and Culberson’s districts.

Hurd won re-election by 1.3 percentage points last year, while Clinton carried the district by less than half a percentage point. Culberson won by 12 percentage points last year, while Clinton won his district by less than 2 percentage points.

Group officials were in Dallas last week fundraising, but their plans for the first round of field offices does not include Dallas area Rep. Pete Sessions, who Democrats also plan to target. Clinton won his district by just under 2 percentage points. Bliss said Sessions’ district could be included later.

Democrats need a net gain of 24 seats in 2018 to retake the House.

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch

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