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Joe Anuta

Speaker Johnson makes NY fundraising swing for battleground House races

House Speaker Mike Johnson made a three-day swing through New York to help raise money for vulnerable House members. | Francis Chung/POLITICO
UPDATED: 04 DEC 2023 10:57 AM EST

NEW YORK — House Speaker Mike Johnson capped off a three-day fundraising effort in New York on Sunday with a pair of events meant to shore up support for congressional Republicans facing tough reelection campaigns in the New York City suburbs.

New York has emerged as a pivotal battleground for control of the House in 2024 after the GOP flipped several seats last election cycle to give them a thin majority. Democrats, however, are aiming to take those districts back, setting up what will be a series of grueling campaigns sure to feature heated debates over abortion, immigration and crime.

Winning the hearts of voters, however, costs money.

And members of the state’s congressional delegation said Sunday they were pleased with the turnout at Empire Steak House in midtown Manhattan. Johnson privately addressed donors in the dining room of the GOP-friendly eatery, which was festooned with Christmas decorations and featured a fire flickering on a screen.

“The initial numbers both digitally and in person are quite good,” Rep. Nick LaLota, one of the first-term Republicans on Long Island, told POLITICO outside the restaurant. “And that will enable us to be confident that we'll have the resources we need to send out mailers or have TV commercials and the other resources needed to to win these competitive campaigns.”

The midtown event raised money for the GOP joint fundraising committee, Grow the Majority NY. The group did not publicize how much was hauled in during Johnson’s swing.

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) arrives for a House Republican Conference meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 19, 2023. | Francis Chung/POLITICO

Johnson declined to answer a question from POLITICO before disappearing into his motorcade, but members of the New York delegation said they were optimistic heading into 2024. Several suburban and upstate races are currently tossups, and the message to donors was that Republicans are growing their margins.

“We’re on offense. We’re winning in New York and, as we saw with the local elections on Long Island [earlier this month], we’re sweeping with Republicans,” Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has vowed to raise $100 million for the races, said after the event.

Johnson, however, is hardly a household name despite emerging from the GOP’s speaker election debacle with the gavel in his hand. And former Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had made strong inroads in the region building a fundraising apparatus and supportive voting blocs.

“I know nothing about the speaker,” Curtis Sliwa, who ran as a Republican in the 2021 mayoral race, said on his way into the midtown fundraiser. “So I'd like to hear a little bit from the speaker. I think most people never even heard of him.”

Democrats are looking to boost Johnson’s name recognition, too. Albeit for different reasons.

A group that included two major labor organizations and the Working Families Party gathered in Westchester County to protest Johnson’s second fundraising stop of the day — an event to support Rep. Mike Lawler, who represents suburban communities north of New York City.

Democrats are looking to tie Lawler — an avowed moderate Republican — to the more conservative politics of Johnson.

“Mike Lawler today is having a fundraiser with the most extreme radical Speaker of the House in American history,” Mondaire Jones, a former Democratic Congress member who is running against Lawler in 2024, said at a press conference denouncing the fundraising event.

Lawler’s campaign counted that Jones has held past positions, such as advocating for defunding the police, that are out of touch with his would-be constituents.

“If he’s looking for a radical, he should look in the mirror,” Ciro Riccardi, Lawler’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “[Lawler’s] bipartisan record speaks for itself.”

And more generally, Republican House members dismissed the strategy Sunday of yoking them to Johnson, saying that they will not necessarily vote in line with the speaker if it means bad politics for the district.

“We vote on what matters most back home,” Long Island freshman Rep. Anthony D’Esposito said outside the midtown event. “The speaker has made it very clear his job right now is to represent [the House] … and that doesn’t always mean carrying his personal agenda across the line.”

An example?

Johnson opposed the expulsion of now former Rep. George Santos, the serial liar who flipped a Long Island congressional seat last year. D’Esposito and his fellow New Yorkers — along with more than 100 other Republicans — overrode those wishes and helped give Santos the boot.

“We allowed [House Republicans] to have a vote of conscience,” Johnson said in an interview Saturday with Fox News.

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