- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Republicans’ fears of losing the House hit overdrive Wednesday after Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced his retirement, leaving the party scrambling to replace one of its best agenda-setters and fundraisers.

Democrats said Mr. Ryan’s departure at the end of this term is the latest sign of a blue wave that will engulf the GOP in November, delivering control of Congress to them.

In the most immediate sense it makes Mr. Ryan’s home district in Wisconsin competitive, giving Democrats one more good target as they try to flip the nearly two dozen seats it will take to win a majority in the House.

Mr. Ryan doubted his departure will affect the outcome in November, said he wasn’t fleeing an impending disaster, and even predicted the GOP will keep control.

“I really don’t think a person’s individual race for Congress is going to hinge on whether Paul Ryan is speaker or not,” Mr. Ryan told reporters.

But party operatives said the announcement, which leaves Mr. Ryan a lame-duck leader for the rest of this year, is a serious blow.

Ryan’s retirement will hurt fundraising and hence candidate recruitment,” said Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan GOP. “There is no other way to interpret this than a big hit on our midterm efforts.”

Mr. Ryan is the latest high-profile Republican to call it quits. The reshuffling has left 39 open Republican-held seats up for grabs in November, compared to just 20 open Democrat-held seats, according to Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“There’s no question that the Ryan exit is another bad sign for GOP House prospects and a sign that Democrats probably have the inside track for taking control of the House, at least right now,” Mr. Kondik said.

Democrats smelled an opportunity, with some of the party’s candidates rushing out fundraising appeals to supporters citing the speaker’s departure and saying now is the time to pony up cash to build the blue wave.

Robert Peickert, chairman of the Democratic Party of DuPage County in Illinois, which is pushing to flip two GOP-held seats in November, told The Washington Times that voters are getting a signal from Republicans.

“There have been a lot of Democrats elected in pretty red districts and it just seems like it will continue and I think with Ryan stepping down it is going to give Democrats in those other districts a boost to get out there and get active,” Mr. Peickert said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee predicted more Republicans will follow Mr. Ryan out the door in retirement. Rep. Dennis A. Ross, a four-term Florida Republican, also announced his retirement Wednesday.

Republicans insisted Mr. Ryan has paved the path for them to keep the majority.

“His vision to reform our broken tax code sparked a new era of American prosperity and confidence,” said Rep. Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee. “Make no mistake: our mission to hold the House continues unabated.”

The White House said the GOP has a good case to make to voters.

“Moving into the midterms, we’ve had an incredibly successful first year and a half focused on tax cuts, deregulation, working towards the defeat of ISIS, remaking of the judiciary,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

But Dave Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, said Mr. Ryan’s announcement was a blow to his party’s morale, and said it puts his seat at real risk for Republicans.

The race to replace Mr. Ryan features Randy Bryce, an ironworker who goes by the name IronStache on Twitter, and Cathy Myers, a former teacher and school board member.

Paul Ryan, the most powerful Republican in Congress — the Speaker of the House — has called it quits because he’s too afraid to face us in the November election,” Mr. Bryce said in a fundraising email Tuesday.

Mr. Ryan’s team laughed off that claim.

The Republican primary contest includes Paul Nehlen, a businessman who ran against Mr. Ryan in 2016 and who has been cast aside by national Republicans who call him a bigot and too divisive for most conservatives.

The field is now likely to expand — though the timing of Mr. Ryan’s announcement isn’t ideal for Republicans, according to Brian Fraley, a Wisconsin-based GOP strategist.

With the June 1 candidate filing deadline looming, Mr. Fraley said the enthusiasm gap for Democrats could convince some top-tier candidates to take a pass and also put added pressure on the donor class, which is already being asked to open their checkbooks for competitive statewide races.

“There is no conceivable way portray this as positive for Republicans — neither nationally or in Wisconsin,” he said.

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