DAVENPORT, Iowa — Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE is crisscrossing the country in a bid to run up his House majority and ease his job leading a fractious GOP conference.
The Ohio Republican is spending the final, precious days of the 2014 campaign flying into House races that had been seen as out of reach for the GOP just weeks ago.
His goal is to build a Republican majority of as many as 245 seats — and earn some loyal friends along the way.
That could leave Boehner with an enduring legacy as he heads into what could be his final term as the top House Republican. The last time Republicans had a larger majority was at the end of World War II, when Harry Truman was occupying the White House.
“Obviously if we can get to a number like that, that would be an extraordinarily positive thing that [speaks to] what he’s accomplished and what Republicans in general have accomplished,” retiring Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) said in an interview.
It also could greatly ease Boehner’s job of legislating in the final two years of the Obama presidency, and ahead of a new race for the White House in 2016.
Boehner's frantic fall offensive has taken him into traditionally blue territory — New York, the Northeast and California, as well as three congressional districts here in Iowa earlier this week that went for President Obama in 2008 and 2012.
On Tuesday, the Speaker traveled next door to Illinois, where he appeared with state Rep. Mike Bost, the Republican taking on freshman Democratic Rep. William Enyart.
Next stop: West Virginia, where Boehner will boost the Republican trying to oust a Democratic fixture, Rep. Nick Rahall, and help hold on to the neighboring seat being vacated by GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who’s headed for the Senate.
Most political pundits scoffed in May when the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) launched its “Drive to 245,” a campaign to expand its 17-seat majority by a dozen seats in the midterms.
But with Obama’s low popularity dragging down Democrats and GOP donors opening their wallets, few are laughing now. Two Beltway prognosticators, the Cook and Rothenberg political reports, have said the GOP will pick up anywhere between two and 10 seats on Tuesday night.
Electing candidates like Republican David Young — someone Boehner called “a solid guy” at a time he needs “some solid people” in Washington — means he’ll have one more vote he can count on when it’s time to take up must-pass legislation, like a government-funding bill, which has encountered resistance from his unruly caucus in the past.
And winning a bigger majority might help guarantee his reelection as Speaker when lawmakers return to the Capitol after the election.
Despite grumblings from some disaffected Tea Party members, Boehner’s reelection is “looking good,” says House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.).
“He does have a tough job,” she says in a phone interview. “I see him as someone who has the right temperament, and has built trust with the members as Speaker.”
Coordination between the NRCC and the Team Boehner political operation has been particularly close. A top Boehner aide, Cory Fritz, works just down the hall from top NRCC officials including political director Rob Simms and communications director Andrea Bozek.
But the Speaker, who scans news stories on his iPad each morning, has a big say in his campaign schedule.
“He’s got a good eye,” says Fritz as supporters wait for Boehner to arrive in Urbandale, a conservative suburb just north of Des Moines where the Speaker is hoping to help Young succeed Latham. “He wants to go to places where he can make an impact in races that are a dead heat.”
He’s also raised $100 million for GOP candidates this cycle, a personal best, as he’s campaigned on the ground with candidates in dozens of districts across the country.
The Hawkeye State has quickly become one of the hottest battlegrounds. GOP campaign aides point to a strong ground operation, a GOP-trending Senate race that could aid down-ticket Republicans and deep frustration with Obama as reasons why the state’s entire congressional delegation could turn red this year.
During a two-day visit this week, Boehner stumped in Urbandale; Hiawatha, just outside Cedar Rapids; and the Quad Cities to boost three GOP House hopefuls.
“I could be in a lot of places in America tonight, but I’m right here because this is a race we can win,” Boehner said to 100 supporters in Davenport on Monday at a rally for Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks. The ophthalmologist and Army veteran is challenging Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, a former college professor, for a third time, though this looks to be her best shot.
In Urbandale a day earlier, both Boehner and Latham praise Young, a former chief of staff to GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, as a son of Iowa who already knows his way around the halls of Congress. Casually dressed in a blue pullover and jeans, Boehner appears relaxed. He and Latham, with whom he dines a few times a week when they’re in Washington, get a bit nostalgic over Latham’s retirement, and Latham ribs his old buddy, saying: “We’re going to do the Boehner weep.”
Then all three men escape out the back door to an idling SUV. They’re on their way to a private residence where Boehner will huddle with about 25 donors and raise some much-needed cash for Young. The low-key policy wonk matched his Democratic opponent, Staci Appel, in the money game, but had to take out a $250,000 loan and only had about $30,000 cash on hand.
A visit from the Speaker — with local reporters and TV news cameras in tow — give his campaign and its coffers a shot in the arm in the homestretch.
“He’s not going to waste his time anywhere; he’s going to make sure his time is maximized,” Young says in an interview. “The Speaker’s time is precious and he will make sure his time is spent on races where people are gonna win.”