A super-PAC friendly to House Speaker Paul Ryan has opened a field office in Tucson in an effort to boost U.S. Rep. Martha McSally's prospects in her often-competitive district.
The move by the Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Leadership Fund reflects an unusually hands-on approach for a political-action committee, said Corwin Bliss, the group's executive director and a veteran campaign manager.
The independent committees, which spent $1.1 billion during the 2016 election cycle, can raise unlimited amounts from individuals, corporations, unions or other organizations to advocate for a candidate's election. They are, however, prohibited from coordinating with candidates or directly contributing to them.
"Managing campaigns across the country made me hate super PACs," Bliss said. "In my experience, 90 percent of the super PAC money spent on behalf of my candidate was nothing more than a total waste of money. It was not impactful. It was the quickest TV ad made by someone who never spent one second in the state the campaign was in."
The Tucson office is one of 17 nationally already operating in districts held by Republicans who are expected to face difficult re-election bids. The CLF, which raised and spent $50 million in the last election cycle, expects to operate 30 offices by next year's midterm elections.
Bliss said he is transferring some of the lessons learned from his successful effort managing the 2016 campaign for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, to a super PAC.
Most importantly, Bliss said, CLF needs to press key voters on local issues they care about, early and often. The CLF also won't try to reach everyone; just those who can make the difference, he said.
McSally, a Republican, breezed to a second term last year. But with the GOP controlling the federal government, she is expected to face a more difficult campaign this time. Her campaign declined to comment about the super PAC's early support.
"When it comes to Martha McSally, we've got her back," Bliss said. "We'll do whatever it takes to get her re-elected."
For now, the CLF has one full-time worker who has recruited high school students to reach out to voters in McSally's district.
Rachel Irwin, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the early support is needed "to prop up Rep. Martha McSally."
"She’s more vulnerable than ever given her vote to raise health-care premiums for Arizona families, and Republican special interests will do whatever it takes to keep her in office so they can advance their harmful agenda," Irwin said.
Several candidates have already entered the race for the Democratic nomination, including former U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whom Bliss singled out as an opponent he expects to eventually paint as a "rubber stamp for (Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi."
Rodd McLeod, a spokesman for the Kirkpatrick campaign, said the CLF's early efforts show how worried McSally and Republicans are about the 2018 race.
"Paul Ryan and the D.C. operatives who run his super PAC are absolutely terrified of Ann Kirkpatrick," he said, noting in particular that Kirkpatrick voted for the Affordable Care Act in her congressional tenure, while McSally voted to repeal it.
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