Politicians differ on whether the decision of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan to step down after this year will matter to U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s re-election bid in Maine’s hotly contested 2nd District.

Ryan, 48, told reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday that he seeks to spend more time with his family.

“The truth is, it is easy for it to take over everything in your life and you can’t just let that happen because there are other things in life that can be fleeting as well: namely your time as a husband and a father,” Ryan said at a news conference.

While some said the speaker’s decision won’t matter, others said it may add some momentum to what they already see as a shift in the direction of the Democrats. It may also crimp GOP fundraising in a district that has seen some of the costliest campaigns in the country during the past two election cycles.

For Poliquin, a two-term Republican, Ryan’s announcement will not change his approach to his job.

“Washington is a mess,” Poliquin said in a prepared statement Wednesday. “There is nonstop news coverage of the comings and goings of people in various positions.

“My focus is, and always will be, what is best for Maine. Regardless of who serves as speaker, I will remain focused on getting results for Maine.”

Democrats said the House will have a new speaker next year no matter what Ryan does because they plan to capture a majority of its seats in November’s general election.

But some see his decision as an indication Poliquin can be beaten.

Jonathan Fulford, one of four Democrats vying for the chance to run against Poliquin, said Ryan’s move “could mean trouble for his staunchest allies, like Bruce Poliquin.” 

Jon Breed, the campaign manager for Lewiston Democrat Jared Golden’s congressional bid, said Ryan faced a tough re-election fight in Wisconsin this year against a military veteran with strong labor ties who is similar to Golden in many ways.

Breed said Ryan’s decision to duck out of the ring is “good news for Democrats,” but Poliquin’s opposition “can’t take this election year for granted.”

“To win in November” Breed said, “it’s going to take a candidate like Jared who has the kind of experience and background voters can trust.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sees Ryan’s departure as a sign that the GOP is in deep trouble as its legislators face the voters this year.

“Speaker Ryan sees what is coming in November, and is calling it quits rather than standing behind a House Republican agenda to increase health-care costs for middle-class families while slashing Social Security and Medicare to pay for his handouts to the richest and largest corporations,” said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law.

“Unfortunately, for the many vulnerable House Republicans that Paul Ryan is abandoning, his historically unpopular and failed policies will hang over their re-elections like a dark cloud. Stay tuned for more retirements as Republicans increasingly realize that their midterm prospects are doomed,” Law said.

Garrett Murch, communications director for the Maine GOP, said Democrats are making too much of Ryan’s decision.

“This is much ado about nothing,” Murch said. “Bruce will remain focused on Maine families, Maine veterans, Maine communities, and Maine small businesses, no matter who the speaker of the House is.”

Not every Democrat thinks Ryan’s choice to step down matters much.

“I don’t expect the change in leadership will have any impact on the race for Maine’s 2nd congressional district race as we will be electing a Democrat as House leader immediately following the November election and the return of the House and Senate to Democrat control,” Democratic congressional hopeful Craig Olson said Wednesday.

“Speaker Ryan is not on the ballot in Maine,” said Democratic congressional candidate Lucas St. Clair. “The election in November will be decided by voters who want someone who will represent them directly in Congress, and fight for issues they care about, such as health care, Social Security and Medicare.”

St. Clair said that Ryan and Poliquin “have tried to take health care away from more than 100,000 Mainers, which doesn’t reflect the values of voters in the district.”

“Whether the speaker is seeking re-election or not,” St. Clair said, “it’s Poliquin who needs to worry about voters holding him accountable in November.”

Brent Littlefield, a consultant to Poliquin, repeated his assertion that the Democrats seeking to replace the incumbent “are working on behalf of Nancy Pelosi to give her the ability” to reclaim the speaker’s office for her party.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, was ousted as speaker after her party lost control of the House after the 2010 election.

“It is important to make sure Nancy Pelosi does not get the gavel back, because she does not represent Maine values,” Murch said. “Bruce’s and our singular focus will remain on helping our people every which way we can.”

Another area where Ryan’s announcement may matter is in terms of money.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC with close ties to Ryan, has already said it planned to open a field office in the 2nd District to help Poliquin.

As a lame-duck speaker, Ryan is likely to have a harder time raising money for the PAC, which may have less influence in funding advertising and other efforts by the GOP to boost Poliquin.

The fund’s executive director, Corry Bliss, said the group has already raised nearly $50 million, “and is on pace to have its best cycle in history.”

“I know the speaker remains personally committed to ensuring CLF continues to succeed and has the resources it needs to maintain the House majority,” Bliss said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, said she didn’t always agree with Ryan, but she likes him and appreciates his service in “one of the most challenging jobs in Washington.”

“For the remainder of his term,” Pingree said, “I hope he feels freer to reach across the aisle so we can address pressing issues that have been blocked by partisan gridlock, such as immigration reform.”

Ryan is a Wisconsin native who has held a House seat since 1998. The GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, Ryan has served as speaker since 2015.

Ryan is the second speaker with whom Poliquin has served since taking office after the 2014 election. Ryan succeeded Republican Rep. John Boehner of Ohio in October 2015.

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U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine, right, meets with House Speaker Paul Ryan recently. Ryan, 48, a Republican from Wisconsin, announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election so he can spend greater time with his family. (Photo provided)


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