Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbyists bounce back under Trump Business groups silent on Trump's Ex-Im nominee Chaffetz won't run for reelection MORE vowed last year that he’d back gay GOP candidates. Now, he’s making good on his word.
The Ohio Republican is heading to California this week, where he’ll raise cash for openly gay Republican candidate Carl DeMaio in defiance of several conservative groups.
“I’m disappointed but not terribly surprised that some extreme far right groups would rather lose elections than win elections, and have been very destructive for so many years within the Republican Party,” DeMaio said in a phone interview. “I’m glad so many people are finally realizing that and standing up to that, saying we may not agree on all issues but we agree on the vast majority of issues.”
Asked specifically whether Boehner’s help sends an important political message, DeMaio did not mention the Speaker by name: “We welcome all support from wherever it comes from. … We’re all coming together in a broad-based campaign not only to win a seat but send a national message that the Republican Party can be more inclusive and positive.”
Conservative groups including the Family Research Council and National Organization for Marriage fired off a letter last week to Boehner, National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellAACR’s march on Washington Poll: Dems have enthusiasm edge for 2018 The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Ky.) chiding them for backing DeMaio and Tisei, as well as Senate hopeful Monica Wehby (Ore.), who supports gay marriage.
“Carl DeMaio, Richard Tisei and Monica Wehby are antithetical to the Republican platform,” the conservative groups wrote. “Mr. DeMaio supports and aggressively advocates for the redefinition of marriage, and welcomed the judicial activism of the federal courts which stripped the people of California of their votes in support of maintaining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Last December, Boehner shot down calls for the NRCC to abandon gay GOP candidates, arguing the party needed to make better inroads with gays, women and minorities following the party’s poor showing in the 2012 election.
Through his various fundraising committees, Boehner has donated the maximum $14,000 to both DeMaio and Tisei this cycle, records show. The NRCC also is spending big in those races, pouring $2.3 million to help DeMaio in his bid to unseat freshman Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). It’s spending another $1 million to prop up Tisei’s campaign against Democratic nominee Seth Moulton, who ousted Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) in the primary.
“Our decisions on the Republican nominees we support will not be based on race, gender or sexual orientation, but will be based on the strength of their candidacy and their ability to defeat Democrats,” NRCC spokesman Ian Prior said.
DeMaio, 40, a former San Diego City councilor who was defeated by Democrat Bob Filner in the 2012 mayor’s race, hasn’t shied away from his sexual orientation or support for gay marriage: a campaign ad featured him and his partner, Jonathan Hale, holding hands during a San Diego LGBT parade.
The GOP’s 100-page “autopsy report,” published in the wake of the 2012 election, did not endorse gay marriage but urged the party to be more “welcoming and inclusive” of people with different viewpoints to avoid alienating young voters.
Team Boehner isn’t making DeMaio’s sexual orientation the focus of its support.
“Carl DeMaio is a reformer and a champion of fiscal responsibility,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for Boehner’s political operation. “He’ll be a strong voice for efficient and accountable government in our House majority.”
Boehner begins his California tour on Monday, headlining a $1,000-per-plate luncheon for former congressman Doug Ose, who’s challenging Democratic Rep. Ami BeraAmi BeraIndependent investigation into Russian interference needed House Democrats identify vulnerable incumbents for 2018 cycle Dems bringing young undocumented immigrants to Trump's speech MORE in California's 7th District, just east of Sacramento. Boehner will appear with Ose in Loomis at the home of Theresa and Tom Kandris, who founded a packaging manufacturing company. Lunch plus a photo with the Speaker runs $2,600, while co-hosting the event will set you back $10,000, according to a fundraiser flier.
Later, Boehner will make fundraising stops for two GOP state assemblymen: Jeff Gorrell, a Navy Reserve commander who’s taking on Democratic Rep. Julia BrownleyJulia BrownleyDems react to Flynn's request for immunity: 'Where there's smoke, there's fire' Lawmakers press Mattis on Marines nude photo scandal A guide to the committees: House MORE for her seat in coastal Ventura County; and Brian Nestande, a former top aide to then-Reps. Sonny Bono and Mary Bono. Nestande is battling Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz for his eastern Riverside County-based seat. Then on Saturday, Boehner will headline an event for DeMaio at a private residence in San Diego.
Boehner’s swing through the Golden State, where Democrats control 38 of 53 House seats and both Senate seats, follows his recent sprint through the North East, where he raked in cash for a slew of GOP candidates, including Lee Zeldin, John Katko and Elise Stefanik of New York; Marilinda Garcia and Rep. Frank Guinta of New Hampshire; and Bruce Poliquin of Maine.
Boehner tapped Stefanik, 30, to deliver the weekly GOP address on Saturday.
The Speaker's forays into traditionally Democratic strongholds comes amid a favorable political climate for the GOP. Earlier this year, the NRCC launched its “Drive to 245” campaign, which would be a net gain of 12 seats in the midterms, though party officials have acknowledged that would be a best-case scenario.
“If we are going to get to 245, that road goes through New York, the Northeast and California,” said the NRCC’s Prior. “We’re on offense, they’re on defense.”
But when it comes to gay candidates, DeMaio may be the last, best hope for the GOP, Democrats said. Openly gay Republican Dan Innis didn’t make it out of his primary in New Hampshire. And Tisei has a much harder slog against Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran who doesn’t carry the same political baggage as Tierney, the defeated congressman from the northeastern Massachusetts district.
“Republicans won’t be able to credibly say that they’re an inclusive party until they start embracing equality and stop blocking laws that would prevent discrimination based on who you love,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Emily Bittner said.
Although Boehner hasn’t held a fundraiser for Tisei, his campaign has been pleased that socially conservative groups haven’t driven the Speaker and the NRCC out of the race.
“It’s extremely encouraging to see someone like Richard have the opportunity to present his Republican vision for the country, and that there is a place in the party for people who are pro-marriage equality,” Tisei spokesman Charlie Szold said.
“It’s encouraging that he’s able to be a change agent within the Republican Party, and hopefully within Washington.”
—This report was updated at 5:21 p.m.