Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan will begin running ads in the race for his House district in Wisconsin, a potential sign of uneasiness about his re-election, which will probably be interpreted more broadly as a lack of confidence in Mitt Romney’s chances in the Presidential election.
Contracts formalized Tuesday with at least one Milwaukee television station show that Ryan’s congressional ads will start airing Wednesday morning and go initially for two weeks. The Ryan congressional ads start in the same week as presidential ticket mate Mitt Romney’s commercials went on air in Wisconsin, although the cost for the two sets of ads are drawn from different campaign accounts.
Wisconsin law allows Ryan to seek both offices simultaneously but only serve in one if he wins the pair. His Democratic opponent in the state’s 1st District is Rob Zerban, a former county official.
Ryan’s congressional campaign manager Kevin Seifert confirmed that ads defending the seat will run in the Milwaukee and Madison markets. He said Ryan expects to run House ads through the Nov. 6 election. They will be paid for with a Ryan campaign fund that brimmed with more than $5.4 million as of late July.
It’s true that the $5.4 million in Ryan’s campaign account does him no good for the Presidential election (though he could donate it to efforts to elect House Republicans or individual Republican candidates), so he might as well spend it. Indeed, Joe Biden ran a one-minute spot in October 2008, when he was running for US Senate simultaneously with the Presidential election (against Christine O’Donnell, I should point out). But that was a late-season biographical spot in a race that everyone knew he would have no problem winning. It never even mentioned the Senate election. Ryan is starting an ad buy over 50 days before the election and planning to run it through to Election Day.
That has to be a sign of some discomfort with his chances at re-election in the district. Unlike O’Donnell, Ryan’s opponent, Rob Zerban, a former Kenosha County board member, actually has a legitimate campaign apparatus. He has raised over $1.2 million so far this election cycle. He has been a high-profile presence in progressive media. And he’s been active in the district, most recently demanding debates with Ryan.
What’s true is that Ryan was probably helped a lot by partisan redistricting in Wisconsin. The old WI-01 was a swing district; this version, after the 2010 Census, was made more red. However, the Daily Kos election resource shows that the district is in exactly the same position relative to how it voted in 2008. Then, it went 51-48 for Obama; despite the change in the district lines, it’s still a 51-48 Obama seat.
Wisconsin is probably more red in general at the national level in 2012; the Romney campaign is contesting it, whereas it was generally not contested in 2008, and won by Obama in a relative walk. In addition, the spots out of the Ryan account can serve as spots for the top of the ticket, giving a few million extra dollars on the air for Romney-Ryan spots that the campaign doesn’t have to pay for. So that could be the ad strategy.
It would be a lot more understandable if we had actual polling here. According to Steve Singiser, the most recent poll of this district showed Ryan up 53-32, with Zerban closing to 49-43 after an “informed ballot test,” which is where information about the two candidates is given, and then the polling redone. The problem here is that this poll, an internal from the Zerban campaign, was taken December 2011. It tells us nothing about the race right now. That’s especially true as Ryan has become a high-profile figure, for good and for ill. We don’t know how his district reacted to that.
But presumably Ryan does. And these ads could be a way to counteract any slippage. The best way to figure this out is with a new poll. Somebody get on that.