Congressman Ryan has kicked his fundraising drive into high gear because the GOP is targeting him

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Joe Schiavoni told the Ohio Senate Democratic Caucus last month that they needed to find someone else to replace him as their leader. That’s because Schiavoni is focusing much of his attention on running for governor in the 2018 election and doesn’t have the time to lead the nine-member caucus, which includes recruiting candidates and raising money for Ohio Senate races. The caucus met Wednesday and elected state Sen. Kenny Yuko of Richmond Heights, D-25th, to replace Schiavoni effective this Wednesday when the Senate returns to session. Schiavoni was the first Democrat to announce his candidacy for governor. Shortly after that, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and former state Rep. Connie Pillich said they too were running in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

Using his newly gained national spotlight and being the target of Republicans in 2018, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan raised, for him, a lot of money during the first quarter of the year.

The $162,825 his campaign raised between January and March was the second most Ryan ever collected in the first quarter dating back to when he first ran for Congress in 2002.

Ryan’s best first quarter was $178,389 in 2014 during a primary year.

His best off-primary first quarter year was $136,555 in 2007.

So that’s good news, right?

Well, not exactly.

Ryan of Howland, D-13th, has never been a strong campaign fundraiser, and often spends almost as much – or in some cases, more – than he raises.

While he raised $162,825 this past quarter, he spent $150,552, the most he’s spent ever in a first quarter. The net gain for the first three months of the year for Ryan was only $12,273.

It left him with $179,454 in his campaign fund as of March 31.

In comparison, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, who’s in a safe Republican district, raised $198,445 and spent $79,55 during the first quarter of the year. As of March 31, Johnson’s campaign fund had $803,972, considerably more money than Ryan.

And Ryan’s money came after a strong online appeal to constituents and a few fundraisers to build up his campaign war chest.

Just a day after the National Republican Congressional Committee listed Ryan in February among 36 Democratic incumbents it was targeting in 2018, his campaign sent an email to supporters with the subject line: “One hell of a fight.”

It opened: “We are in for one hell of a fight. The campaign arm of the Republican Party just added Tim to their target list of Democrats they’re working to defeat in 2018. We need to act fast. The attacks on Tim could start at any moment.”

It continued: “The more money we raise from grassroots donors in these crucial early days of the campaign, the more we can head off big-money GOP attacks before they start.”

The email added: “Millions of dollars from out-of-state special interests could come pouring into Tim’s re-election race at any moment, and we need to be ready. Will you rush a contribution right now?”

A day later, his campaign followed up with another email again mentioning Ryan is a Republican target and asking for contributions. His campaign sent out numerous other emails since with similar messages urging donors to give money.

When I asked why Ryan spent so much in the first quarter, Michael Zetts, his spokesman, said, “After the election and Democratic minority leader bid, Ryan’s heightened political role in the Democratic Party has drawn increased national support that his campaign is building upon. This quarter, Ryan expanded his digital outreach and fundraising efforts in order to better connect with Ohioans and Americans across the country, which included a revamped website, robust email program and additional campaign staff.”

The reality is Ryan will run pretty safe in a district that has backed him for years. But he’s obviously not taking anything for granted, and the NRCC target gives him an opportunity to raise money.

Republicans are focusing their attention on congressional districts that saw President Donald Trump do well, but their thoughts when it comes to Ryan’s district are somewhat shortsighted.

In last year’s election, Trump received 45 percent of the vote to 51 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 13th, a solid Democratic district.

Trump’s percentage was the highest in the area since Republican Richard Nixon in his 1972 landslide re-election victory.

But Republicans are likely kidding themselves here because Ryan received 68 percent of the vote in the district showing no ill-effects of being dragged down by Clinton’s less-than-stellar performance.

Also, if Republicans have a chance of competing against Ryan in 2018 they need to find a worthy opponent now to take on the eight-term Democrat. So far, there hasn’t been a peep from the GOP.

Republicans have been unable to find a solid candidate to challenge Ryan since 2004, two years after he was first elected to Congress.

While Trump defied conventional political wisdom in the last election, the midterm elections are usually not kind to the party with an incumbent president in office.

So without a well-known challenger – and in such a Democratic district it will also take a lot of money to beat Ryan – Republicans seem to be shooting too high in believing they can win the 13th District next year.

But that’s not going to stop Ryan from using that Republican target line to raise money for his re-election bid. He just needs to slow down on the spending.

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