Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, center, with Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, conducts a news conference in Philadelphia in March 2022.
CNN  — 

Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, recently traveled to the Hudson Valley to raise money against his Democratic counterpart in his own backyard.

And on Thursday, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with the House Republican leadership, announced a $1.9 million ad campaign against Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York this fall.

The twin moves, which have not been previously reported, sent a clear message: Republicans are serious about taking down the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, a conquest that would not only put them one seat closer to the majority, but would also earn them extra bragging rights within the GOP. And even if they don’t succeed in toppling Maloney, they’re at least hoping to force him to play defense and potentially drag down the Democratic Party’s resources.

Maloney’s response?

“Two words: Bring it,” Maloney told CNN.

New York Democrats think the Republicans’ strategy is an attempt to distract Maloney from his responsibilities defending their House majority and dismissed the effort as nothing more than a fool’s errand. While former President Donald Trump won the district in 2016, President Joe Biden won it in 2020, when Maloney again outgained the top of the ticket, winning nearly 56% of the vote. Maloney’s district could get even bluer in redistricting.

But Republicans see a worsening political environment for Democrats, as Biden’s approval rating sticks to the low 40s amid concerns over inflation, crime, Covid-19 and the administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. And they view Maloney’s Democratic-leaning suburban district as the type of seat that Republicans hope will deliver them a sizable majority in November, after gaining a dozen more competitive seats in 2020. They need only five more to win back the House in 2022.

The warfare between the campaign arm leaders is hardly new. The National Republican Congressional Committee targeted the Democrats’ previous campaign chief, Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, in the last election cycle, and nearly succeeded. To the delight of Republicans, Bustos then announced she would retire from Congress after this term.

Still, for Maloney and Emmer, the fight over the future party control of the House has turned personal – and nasty.

Emmer told CNN that Maloney was “nothing more than a woke White liberal.” Maloney responded by raising Emmer’s two arrests on drunk-driving-related charges from decades ago.

“If he wants to, you know, drunk-drive his way over to the Hudson Valley and debate my record, I’m happy to do it,” Maloney said. “Maybe we can compare rap sheets and we can have a debate on that.”

‘We’re investing because we really think he’s going to lose’

While Maloney expressed confidence in his electoral prospects, he also said he’s taking nothing for granted. In the face of GOP attacks on his past statements supporting eliminating cash bail, Maloney notes initiatives like directing $7 million in “direct support” to local police departments and giving “crime-fighting technologies like ShotSpotter,” which alerts gunfire, to police in the city of Newburgh. His campaign boasts more than $2 million on hand, about $1.5 million more than his Republican opponent, state Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings.

“If they want to waste their money in my district, it just means we’ll be holding the majority in the competitive seats around the country where they should be focusing their time,” said Maloney. “I understand they’re playing a game, but I’ve got a record of results I’m proud of, and I’ve won this seat five times by getting results for the people I represent.”

Maloney has also hit Schmitt over his association with the January 6, 2021, Capitol Hill insurrection. Schmitt reportedly gave a speech to a group of constituents before they took a bus to the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC, and he has previously dodged questions about whether Biden was legitimately elected.

When asked by CNN if he agreed with Trump that the 2020 election was ‘“stolen,” Schmitt responded, “I believe that Joe Biden was elected president, and unfortunately, we’re dealing with the consequences of his weakness and leadership. We need to focus on the 2022 election and run the strongest possible campaigns so we can win back the House majority and have a check and balance on the Biden agenda that’s failed us.”

Democrats are skeptical of the prospect that Maloney is in danger.

Bruce Gyory, a veteran Democratic political strategist, said Maloney has always had a “terrific” constituent service operation and been “a very active presence” in his district.

“I don’t think they are wrong from their perspective in having him divert attention from his DCCC role, but I have to see some real persuasive polling evidence that he’s in jeopardy before I believe it,” said Gyory of the Republicans. “I think it’s more of a feint than a strategic thrust.”

Republican strategists are publicly split on whether Maloney’s leadership role affects how they view the race, but all maintain that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman is vulnerable. Emmer said his fundraiser two weeks ago for Schmitt has “got nothing to do with (Maloney’s) title,” arguing that the district is “extremely competitive.” The National Republican Congressional Committee placed Maloney on its first round of targets and has already cut several digital ads hammering him over gas prices and inflation.

“Our guys are telling us that anyone who sits in a seat that Joe Biden won by 12 points or less is going to have a miserable fall,” Emmer said.

But when asked whether Maloney is a more attractive target because of the New York Democrat’s position as a party leader, Dan Conston, the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, replied, “Absolutely. … It’s icing on the cake.”

“But … we’re investing because we really think he’s going to lose,” he added.

Some Republicans are also hoping to stir the pot, saying that if Maloney has to spend time and resources on his own race, it could sow distrust and resentment among more vulnerable Democrats.

Maloney, however, insisted he wouldn’t need to spend party resources on his own race or to divert attention from his mission of protecting the House majority. “I don’t see a scenario where that’s going to happen,” he said.

Schmitt, a 31-year-old state legislator who serves as a corporal in the Army National Guard, has already earned the support of the top three GOP leaders in the House: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York.

In an interview, Schmitt said he’s running to flip the district and the House in order to be a “check and balance” against unified Democratic control “and bring back some compromise and maybe some bipartisanship in government.” He ticked off his top two campaign issues – public safety and the economy – and asserted that Maloney had “abandoned” the Hudson Valley for Washington.

“They want a congressman, not a campaign chairman,” Schmitt said. “They want someone who’s going to be fighting, going to DC and coming back to the district and delivering tangible results so people can afford to live here.”

Maloney, however, argued that his position only aids his ability to help his district.

“I’m proud that my colleagues chose me for a leadership role that increases my ability to deliver for my district,” Maloney said. “I’m proud to have a seat at the table, where the important decisions get made that affect the lives and the livelihoods of the people I represent.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.