By Jim Ellis
Aug. 11, 2016 — House Speaker Paul Ryan recorded an 84-16 percent landslide victory against Republican primary opponent Paul Nehlen Tuesday night in southern Wisconsin. Nehlen was on his way to approaching the $1 million mark in campaign expenditures, but it did little to help expose any weakness in the Ryan political base.
Ryan followed the lead of his predecessor, former House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH-8), when faced with a similar primary circumstance in 2014. Boehner re-invented himself as the local congressman for that particular race, returning to his roots in western Ohio and never mentioning his GOP opponent in ads or speeches. In fact, never did Ryan even indicate that he was the House Speaker, instead confining his personal description to that of local congressman.
Nehlen attacked heavily on immigration and trade, but it was Ryan’s years of work in the district and never losing touch with his political base and core constituency that allowed him to record such a big primary victory. In fact, the current Speaker actually ran 13 points ahead of the former Speaker’s final primary performance against a more difficult political opponent.
Aug. 10, 2016 — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) won re-nomination easily in his Wisconsin district by a margin of 84-16 percent. Businessman Paul Nehlen (R), a first-time candidate who made immigration and trade policies the centerpiece of his campaign, opposed him.
Nehlen had attracted a great deal of local and national attention, particularly when regularly holding events in front of Ryan’s Janesville home. The congressman countered with running positive television ads, using his extreme financial advantage to his benefit, never advertising that he is the Speaker of the House, and relying upon a strong connection with his district Republican voters who have nine times nominated and elected him to the House.
Ryan raised almost $15 million and spent $8 million through July 20, but determining actual re-election expenditures versus national political commitments and expenses is difficult at this point. By contrast, Nehlen had raised and spent close to $900,000 through the same date, a very respectable amount for a challenger to a top House leader.
Turning to northeastern Wisconsin, Rep. Reid Ribble’s (R-Sherwood/Green Bay) open 8th District voters also chose nominees. Democrats have coalesced around Outagamie (Appleton) County Executive Tom Nelson, who is unopposed in the party primary. Already raising just over $600,000, Nelson will be a competitive general election factor in a district that has five times elected a Democrat since 1974.
Aug. 8, 2016 — Volunteer State voters went to the polls in their unique Thursday primary last week to choose congressional and state office nominees. The evening featured two of the most watched congressional races in the state, the GOP primary challenge to three-term Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg) and the crowded open 8th District from which three-term Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Frog Jump/Jackson) is retiring.
Former Mitt Romney campaign official and attorney Grant Starrett challenged Rep. DesJarlais, who had been plagued for two cycles with the past scandal of engaging in extra-marital affairs with several of his female medical practice patients. Yet, he managed to survive in close contests. Two years ago, the congressman nipped former state Sen. Jim Tracy (R) by a mere 38 votes in winning with less than a majority in a multi-candidate field.
On Thursday, DesJarlais’ percentage was much better, defending himself against Starrett’s attacks from the ideological right and winning 52-43 percent, from a vote pool of just under 47,000 cast ballots. Though Starrett talked a great deal about ethics in his ads and public appearances, he did not reference DesJarlais’ affairs. Starrett had a significant resource advantage, possibly outspending the incumbent by 75 percent or more. We will see the final expenditure totals when the candidates soon file their post-election financial disclosure reports. Starrett will have likely spent in the $1.5 million range. Rep. DesJarlais now looks to be a sure re-election bet in the fall.
Aug. 5, 2016 — The country’s only Thursday primary took place yesterday in the Volunteer State of Tennessee. No US Senate race was on the ballot there this year, but competition existed within the House delegation.
The state featured one open seat, the 8th District of retiring three-term Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Frog Jump/Jackson), and a total of six primaries in the state’s nine CDs.
The 4th District challenge to Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg/ Murfreesboro) was very serious. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) again drew competition from the legendary political Ford family, but the contest is not attracting much in the way of attention or challenger financial support. Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin) drew a former state representative and statewide candidate, but he, too, was not expected to be a major threat.
The remaining challenges, those to Reps. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) and Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga), were minor. Regarding the latter member, this was the first time since his original election in 2010 that Fleischmann had an easy Republican primary run.
Aug. 4, 2016 — Voters in four states went to the polls Tuesday, and the primary evening’s top news featured western Kansas Republicans unseating their three-term Freedom Caucus congressman.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Fowler) fell to Dr. Roger Marshall (R), 56-44 percent, effectively ending his six-year tenure in the House. Huelskamp was at odds with the Republican leadership from the very beginning of his congressional career, even driving them to remove him from the Agriculture Committee, the industry of premier dominance in his district. The situation deteriorated to the point that even the Kansas Farm Bureau and the state Livestock Association officially backed Dr. Marshall.
Though national issues drove Huelskamp, it was the local agriculture situation that cost him the seat. The successful opposition campaign centered around Huelskamp’s ouster from the Agriculture Committee in one of the nation’s richest farm producing districts, and the incumbent’s refusal to support the farm bill in several Congresses. Dr. Marshall will easily win the seat in the general election.
Aug. 2, 2016 — Today, voters in four states go the polls to choose nominees for their federal and state races. Intra-party contests in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington will be decided. The Tennessee primary will follow on Thursday.
The day’s most competitive primary challenge is underway in the 1st District, where one of the conservative Freedom Caucus’ most outspoken members, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Fowler/Western Kansas), faces one lone, serious challenger, Dr. Roger Marshall (R). Sen. Jerry Moran (R) and Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Overland Park/Kansas City) face only minor opposition in their respective campaigns.
The 1st District stretches from the Colorado border east through three-quarters of Kansas’ land mass. Including cities such as Manhattan, Hutchinson, Salina, Dodge City, Garden City, and Liberal, KS-1 is a conservative, agriculture-dominated CD. Rep. Huelskamp, who won a crowded open seat nomination fight in 2010, also received a primary challenge in 2014 and prevailed 56-44% over Alan LaPolice who only managed to spend just over $160,000.
July 29, 2016 — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) faces a Wisconsin primary challenge that is beginning to show movement, and he’s responding. While there is little chance Ryan loses re-nomination on Aug. 9, his opponent, businessman Paul Nehlen (R), is scoring points.
The Speaker, conscious of avoiding the political campaign mistakes that cost former Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA-7) his seat in Congress, responded this week with a positive ad television buy (above).
Cantor’s mistake was attacking his Republican opponent, now Rep. David Brat (R-Glen Allen). The Majority Leader’s offensive provided Brat’s insurgent campaign enough credibility to attract meaningful attention, resulting in significant numbers listening to his message.