With the Republican National Convention spilling into the first week of September, the traditional post-Labor Day start to the fall campaign was delayed a week.
But as Members of Congress return to the Capitol this week for the final legislative push before leaving town to hit the campaign trail, there is little question that election season is now in full swing.
People are finally beginning to focus, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said. Were in the sprint to the finish line.
Two months before voters go to polls on Nov. 4, Democrats still hold the advantage on a Congressional battleground that remains large but fluid.
The dominant story line of the final leg will undoubtedly be whether House and Senate Democrats looking to further cement their majorities are able to maximize the wide financial advantage they enjoy over their GOP counterparts.
The limited funds of the Republican campaign committees on both sides of the Capitol have been a running theme of the 2008 cycle. But in the next two months, both operations will be forced to make excruciating decisions about which races to fund, including leaving incumbents whose defeats appear certain hanging out to dry.
There is no starker example of the financial disparity than in the scope of television advertising time the two House campaign committees have reserved at this point.
The DCCC has reserved $53 million in time across 51 competitive districts around the country. The National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved $18 million in 26 districts.
Freedoms Watch, the conservative advocacy group that is expected to spend heavily in House and Senate contests in an effort to boost GOP candidates, will serve to supplement the party committees independent expenditure operations. The 501(c)(4) cannot coordinate with political parties or directly advocate for or against a candidates election, but it is capable of taking unlimited contributions and does not have to disclose its donors.
NRCC Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) said last week he has instructed his IE team which has total control over where to move television ad dollars to be brutal when it comes to making determinations of lost causes.
If it comes a time to cut off, or you see an opportunity moved, then be brutal, Cole said he has told the team. Were not doing this. We cant do this any other way. The deal is to save seats, win seats, get the army over the river and onto the high ground as best we can and then see what things look like on the other side of the election. So you gotta be brutal, and they will be.
Cole has repeatedly stressed to his colleagues this cycle that they cant count on the party being there with a life preserver in the end.
Traditionally, incumbent retention is the No. 1 priority for campaign committees, followed by open seats and then races against vulnerable incumbents from the opposite party. However, with signs of an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington, D.C., mood emanating from across the country, the open seats may look like a better bet than trying to save some incumbents who will be defending voting records and their ties to unpopular President Bush.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.