“The problem is,” Mr. Boehner boomed, “the president’s never done anything, never had a real job, never really run anything. His idea of fixing the economy is having the government spend more money.” Mitt Romney is the guy to get the economy rolling again, he said. Oh and by the way, Representative Tom Latham, running for re-election here, is great, too.
Mr. Latham — who is in a tough matchup with a long-serving Democratic incumbent — is a big beneficiary of Mr. Boehner’s fund-raising efforts this year, but hardly the only one.
Mr. Boehner’s August recess haul — roughly $4 million over four weeks — brought his fund-raising to a dizzying $84 million in just under two years, believed to be the biggest amount raised by a House speaker in a single election cycle.
Mr. Boehner, an Ohio Republican, surpassed Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the former speaker and Democratic leader whose fund-raising prowess has long been admired and envied by Republicans. Ms. Pelosi has raised $65 million for House Democrats during this period, including what aides say was $6.8 million in August; she has raised over $300 million for candidates over the last decade.
Democrats say the numbers are not apples to apples because Mr. Boehner’s total was accrued through an accounting that considers direct mail appeals, money raised for multiple entities, while Ms. Pelosi’s total is exclusively what she has raised for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Regardless, the prolific summer fund-raising by both lawmakers underscores the giant sums of money that are dumping from both parties into down-ballot races this year, the intensity of the stakes, and how fund-raising has become both a top responsibility of the modern speaker and a means to holding on to that power at the top.
While Democrats have an uphill fight to take back the House — Mr. Boehner has repeatedly said that Ms. Pelosi will take back the gavel “from my cold, dead hands” — Republicans remain on the defensive and want to leave nothing to chance. Further, Mr. Boehner probably expects his toil and largess will be remembered by some of the more raucous corners of his conference should they prevail this November, and will help him solidify his support among those members.
In 23 days on the road last month, Mr. Boehner spent nearly every day in an airport, zipping 9,126 miles from upstate New York to suburban Chicago to St. Louis to Salt Lake City to the central coast of California, where he told jokes and sipped merlot from a plastic cup in service to Republican House candidates. “When it comes to our candidates,” he said in an interview this summer, “no one will work harder than me.”
Mr. Boehner’s focus has been Republican candidates, particularly challengers, in so-called orphan states that the national party has paid little attention to because the presidential race is considered a fait accompli there. The focus has been particularly intense in New York, Illinois and California, where Republicans are both defending seats that they snapped up in the 2010 wave and looking for 23 new ones. Of the roughly 50 seats the party sees in play, 18 are in those three states.
Having the speaker in town to entertain guests over eggs (Des Moines), wine and cheese (Santa Barbara) or brats (Appleton, Wis.) can be extremely lucrative. In Salt Lake City, for instance, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Mr. Boehner’s fund-raiser for a House candidate, Mia Love, raised $150,000, some for her campaign and a portion going to the state party.
Many candidates find it provides a much needed shot in arm for their campaigns not just in terms of money but in publicity. It also shows the candidates that their races rate high for the leadership.
In the central coast area of California, where redistricting begot a competitive district for the first time in a generation, Mr. Boehner was the first prominent Republican to come and raise money for another in years, said Abel Maldonado, who is seeking a House seat in the 24th District.
“It sends a strong signal that this is a very competitive race, and that we can win,” he said. “It was very exciting to have him here.”
The speaker’s events are often met with protests — as was the case for the fund-raiser for Mr. Maldonado — reflecting the unpopularity of Congress generally and the Republican-led House specifically in some quarters under his stewardship.
Events tend to range from $50-a-head small-town breakfasts to $5,000-a-head golf course extravaganzas. Mr. Boehner’s money is distributed through his own network directly to the candidates and to organizations like the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Mr. Boehner — like Ms. Pelosi — is almost constantly cantering from airport to event to airport, often doing three fund-raisers a day.
He did take time with some staff members to go fishing for walleye and bass in Wisconsin, and was up around 4:30 the next morning to read before heading to the Wausau airport at 7 a.m. He flew to St. Louis for an event with Jason Plummer, a House candidate, in Fairview Heights, Ill., a meeting with a National Republican Congressional Committee donor in St. Louis, and an event for another candidate, Ann Wagner, on the outskirts of St. Louis. That afternoon he was on a plane to Denver, where he did an evening event for Representative Mike Coffman.
Outside of the protests and stinging editorials that can follow his fund-raising, Mr. Boehner has the occasional awkward moment. On a plane from Des Moines — where he has been raising money for Mr. Latham, one of his best friends in the House — back to Washington, Mr. Boehner was seated in first class right behind Representative Leonard L. Boswell, Mr. Latham’s opponent in the race.
Mr. Boswell, not so innocently, inquired if Mr. Boehner had been playing some golf around town.
“If you ever need anything let me know,” Mr. Boswell said as Mr. Boehner stared blankly ahead. “You’re my speaker, too.”
Derek Willis contributed reporting.