Ryan’s super PAC spends millions in attack ads

A super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan is opening a new front to lash a range of Democratic candidates in the final sleepy days of summer, part of a newly aggressive strategy to save the Republican Party’s House majority — at serious risk of flipping this fall.

The Congressional Leadership Fund will drop nearly $10 million this month to attack Democrats in 14 races from New York to California, an attempt to get a jump-start in the fall ad wars, force Democrats to spend money early and define the candidates in a negative light with voters, officials with the group tell CNN.

Among the attacks: accusing one California Democrat of being “shady” by enriching himself on Chinese “sweatshops,” calling an Illinois Democrat a “corporate con man,” alleging that a New Jersey Democrat lobbied for “terrorist rights” — and tying several to Republicans’ favorite target: House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Most outside organizations have typically waited until after Labor Day to drop hard-hitting ads, betting that voters are vacationing and not fully engaged in the competitive midterm battlegrounds until Election Day draws closer. In the 2016 election cycle, the Congressional Leadership Fund waited until Sept. 13 to begin its air war.

But this year, Ryan’s super PAC calculated that to save the majority, huge money needs to be spent aggressively and early — especially as Democrats have a strong chance to pick up the 23 seats they need to flip the House. The group has pulled in more than $100 million for the cycle, which it also is investing heavily in a field program to turn out the vote in November, making it one of the biggest players in the battle for control of Congress.

“In this environment, we must win August to win November,” said Corry Bliss, executive director for the group. “By going on offense, we are forcing Democrats to spend money earlier than planned.”

In Kansas, the group spent $825,000 on ads saying, “A vote for Paul Davis is a vote for Nancy Pelosi,” prompting an angry response from the congressional candidate’s campaign, which demanded that TV stations take down an ad it said was false. Davis pushed back with his own ad, decrying Washington politicians and touting bipartisanship.

“I will not support Nancy Pelosi,” he declared.

Also, the group spent roughly $800,000 on attacks in Kentucky, with an ad featuring a single mother looking into the camera to criticize Democratic candidate Amy McGrath for opposing GOP tax legislation and link her to Pelosi. Facing attacks from the group and her opponent, Rep. Andy Barr, McGrath responded with her own ad touting her military credentials and bluntly saying to Barr: “Is that all you got?”

Democratic officials denied to CNN that they were being forced to change their strategy because of the Ryan super PAC, arguing that ads in Kansas and Kentucky, for instance, had already been planned.

Democrats predicted that early attacks will backfire, saying that internal focus groups in a GOP-leaning Pennsylvania district showed voters were put off by attacks the Ryan group launched on Democrat Conor Lamb, who won a special election earlier this year in a district Trump had carried by 20 points in 2016.

Still, the GOP money isn’t insignificant and could reshape closely contested races.

To help California’s Rep. Dana Rohrabacher save his seat, the GOP group plans to drop $630,000 in ads starting Friday. In three other California districts — seats now occupied by Republican Reps. Mimi Walters, Steve Knight and the retiring Rep. Ed Royce — the group plans to spend a total of nearly $2 million on a new round of ads that started this week.

In Illinois, Rep. Peter Roskam is being aided by $585,000 in ads lashing his opponent, while in Kansas $1.4 million is being spent to help Rep. Kevin Yoder. Plus $300,000 in ads to bolster Pete Stauber, who won a House primary in Minnesota earlier this week, will start Friday.

Several House Republican incumbents farther east — Reps. Tom MacArthur and Leonard Lance of New Jersey, Reps. John Faso and Claudia Tenney of New York and Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine — will be bolstered by nearly $2.5 million among the five of them in ads just for this month.

Officials at the Congressional Leadership Fund say they plan to add more races and more money to their ad spending after Labor Day.

Republicans hope the ad money could tamp down Democratic enthusiasm for their candidates — and potentially narrow the so-called generic ballot, where Democrats maintain an 11-point lead nationally over Republicans in terms of who voters prefer to control Congress, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday.

“CLF is going on offense and spending early to attack and define Democrats in House races across the country,” Bliss said.