GOP group's ad blitz gives voters a choice ahead of the midterms: It's either Trump or Pelosi

Key Points
  • A Republican super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan is signaling to the electorate that a vote for House Democrats is a vote against President Donald Trump and an allegiance with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
  • One of the first districts that's getting a taste of the distinct messaging is upstate New York's 22nd.
  • According to a source close to the committee, the PAC will be unleashing similar attack ads in key battleground districts as November approaches.
Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi
Reuters; Getty Images

With just three weeks until the midterm elections and control of Congress on the line, a major Republican money group is telling voters their choice this fall comes down to deciding between President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, which is aligned with retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, is starting its new messaging campaign in areas including upstate New York's 22nd District, where incumbent GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney faces a challenge from Democrat Anthony Brindisi.

In a new ad first provided to CNBC, the PAC links Tenney to Trump while arguing that Brindisi, a state assemblyman, will be an ally of Pelosi. The ad will start airing in Binghamton and Utica markets, as well as on digital platforms throughout the district.

The group will soon hammer the Trump vs. Pelosi theme across the country. According to a source close to the committee, the PAC will unleash similar attack ads in key battleground districts as November approaches.

"President Trump is a powerful motivator for Republican voters and his presence on the campaign trail this fall will help win several key races across the country," Corry Bliss, CLF's executive director, said in a statement.

Pelosi is a favorite target of Republicans, but her spokesman says the tactic isn't resonating with the electorate.

"Republicans are on the brink of losing their House Majority and they are flailing. Poll after poll shows that attacking Nancy Pelosi just isn't the Hail Mary they hoped it would be," said Drew Hammill, Pelosi's deputy chief of staff. "Their strategy to hold the majority is crumbling before their eyes."

Later, the Brindisi campaign responded to the ad and pushed back on the idea that he would support Pelosi's agenda if he were to be elected.

"He's been clear that in Congress he won't support Nancy Pelosi for speaker," Brindisi campaign manager Ellen Foster said. "Instead of working to fix our broken immigration system with bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, Claudia Tenney and her allies are distorting Anthony's record to divide Upstate New Yorkers."

Representatives for Tenney and Trump did not return requests for comment.

Helping Tenney defend her seat

The new ad is part of the Congressional Leadership Fund's $3.2 million advertising campaign supporting Tenney. The race is considered one of the most hotly contested campaigns this year. Outside money groups from both parties have been pouring money into the contest.

Brindisi has the backing of the House Majority PAC, a super PAC that has ties to Pelosi. So far, the committee has spent $1.5 million in the district against Tenney, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group's latest TV ad attempts to describe the one-term congresswoman as someone who is bought and paid for by special interest groups.

Polling shows Brindisi with a slight advantage, although it is still anyone's race. Data analyst Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight gives the Democrat a 60 percent chance of winning.

In August, a Siena College poll had Brindisi up by 2 points. Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball marks the district as a toss-up. Democrats need to pick up at least 23 GOP House seats to regain the majority in the House.

Trump is 'rocket fuel' to the base

The efforts by the Congressional Leadership Fund to move ahead with the Pelosi vs. Trump narrative comes as the president's approval ratings have improved.

Trump's average approval rating stands at 42 percent, up from just below 40 percent in FiveThirtyEight's earlier reading. President Ronald Reagan had a similar rating after being in office for over 630 days. President Barack Obama polled 3 points higher than Trump at the same stage in his tenure.

While Trump lost the state of New York to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, he won large portions of New York's 22nd District by more than 20 points.

Adding Trump to the GOP closing argument is a key to invigorating the base of the party to get out and vote, according to Republican strategists.

"The only individual who energizes Republican voters more than Nancy Pelosi is President Trump," GOP strategist John Ashbrook said in an interview. "He's rocket fuel to base enthusiasm and his presence will be a welcome sign to candidates across the map this fall."

Pelosi, who could well become the next speaker of the House if Democrats win the majority, has low popularity among voters nationwide. A Real Clear Politics polling average shows the California Democrat with a 52.5 percent unfavorable rating while nearly 28 percent favor her.

Still, other polls show that voters may not care about Pelosi when it comes to the issues.

In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, just 34 percent of registered voters said Pelosi is an important issue in the election, while 14 percent said she is extremely important. The majority of registered voters, 59 percent, said Pelosi is less important, while 43 percent said she's not important.

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