GOP targets vulnerable Armed Services panel chairman Skelton

The House’s top Republican will spend Labor Day weekend in the backyard of Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the Armed Services Committee chairman who is a huge GOP target this cycle.

House Minority Leader John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerEthics panel reprimands Freedom Caucus chairman over handling of harassment allegations Pelosi allies rage over tactics of opponents Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time MORE (R-Ohio) on Saturday will be the headliner at a fundraising lunch in Jefferson City, Mo., for Vicky Hartzler (R). Hartzler is challenging Skelton, who is seeking his 18th term.

Skelton’s district is red. In 2008, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship Cindy McCain takes aim at Trump: We need a strong leader, 'not a negative Nancy' McCain would have said ‘enough’ to acrimony in midterms, says Cindy McCain MORE (R-Ariz.) easily defeated President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFDA tobacco crackdown draws fire from right As Democrats gear up to challenge Trump in 2020, the key political divide will be metropolitan versus rural Trump's take on midterms: ‘Epic' win in Senate, ‘better than other sitting Presidents’ in House MORE 61-38 in the fourth district of Missouri.

Anticipating a huge wave in November, the GOP has been gunning for several committee chairmen, including Skelton, House Budget panel chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Natural Resources Committee chairman Nick RahallNick Joe RahallWe shouldn't allow politics to impede disaster relief Break the cycle of partisanship with infant, child health care programs Clinton mulls role in 2018 midterms MORE (D-W.Va.).

At the Jefferson City luncheon, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerEthics panel reprimands Freedom Caucus chairman over handling of harassment allegations Pelosi allies rage over tactics of opponents Meet the lawyer Democrats call when it's recount time MORE is expected to make some comments and mingle with guests and donors. The lunch is at a private residence and is closed to the media.

“Leader Boehner will speak about the importance of electing public servants like Vicky Hartzler who will help small businesses create new jobs, and fight to stop the Democrats’ ‘stimulus’ spending spree and their jobs-killing ‘cap and trade’ national energy tax,” said Boehner spokesman Don Seymour in an e-mail to The Hill.

Skelton is known as one of the more mild-mannered chairmen, but his campaign has been aggressive.

For example, Skelton’s campaign manager fired off a statement on Friday calling on Hartzler to confront Boehner at the fundraiser about his positions on Social Security.

“Representative Hartzler should take this opportunity to tell Mr. Boehner that she stands with Ike Skelton and Missouri seniors in opposing the Boehner plan to privatize Social Security and raise the Social Security retirement age to 70,” said Jason Rauch, Skelton’s campaign manager. “Time and again, Ike has stood up to his party, like when he opposed the healthcare bill, because it was in the best interest of rural Missourians. So far Representative Hartzler hasn’t shown the same willingness to put people before party.”

Skelton has opposed the Obama administration’s effort to repeat the Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Hartzler has repeatedly criticized Skelton for voting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) 95 percent of the time and is trying to make in-roads on issues such as climate change, which Skelton supported in 2009.

After Hartzler’s primary win last month, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) claimed in a memo that she can defeat Skelton: “From her ‘all of the above’ energy approach to a strong plan to reign [sic] in government spending, Vicky has the right message to unseat this staunch Obama/Pelosi ally.”

Hartzler’s campaign is also attacking Skelton for backing a procedural vote on healthcare reform earlier this year, even though he voted against the healthcare bill twice.

Skelton has focused much of his campaigning on his work for the military. His campaign has already been running ads on local TV highlighting Skelton’s military work.

Skelton has stressed that his work on behalf of the military community has also made him an effective voice for the small businesses in his district. Whiteman Air Force Base and the Army’s Fort Leonard Wood are both in Skelton’s district.

Skelton called these bases “engines for economic growth,” according to local media reports.

“According to the Missouri Department of Economic Development the presence of the military in Missouri added almost 30,000 jobs to the economy in 2008. These are not Defense Department employees, these are folks like our neighbors who work in restaurants and hotels, construction crews and the like,” Skelton said.

Skelton’s campaign has not yet asked political heavyweights in the Democratic Party to campaign for him.

House leaders and colleagues, however, have poured more than $60,000 into Skelton’s campaign coffers, according to CQMoneyLine. Among those lending a helping hand are House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), and politically vulnerable Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), the top Veterans Affairs and military construction appropriator.

Skelton has close to $1.4 million in campaign cash, according to the latest fundraising data, with 57 percent of the contributions from out of state. Hartzler has close to $366,000 with 91 percent of the contributions from in-state, according to CQ Moneyline.

According to David Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, Democrats like Skelton who took “early precautions” and have taken “aggressive action” are now polling well in red districts.