The next few weeks are critical in the chess match the House campaign committees are playing when it comes to deciding how to maximize their resources and where to spend millions in independent expenditure funds.
For House Democrats, October brings the reality that strategists will soon begin making more public moves to financially cut loose vulnerable incumbents.
National Republican Congressional Committee strategists will be moving money away from races where polling shows the Republican candidate poised for victory. They will also be determining which lower-tier races present real opportunities and warrant continued spending through Election Day.
As of last weekend, the NRCC had spent just under $6 million in 31 contests. Many of those expenditures were in places that have long been considered 2010 battlegrounds, such as the districts of Reps. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) and Tom Perriello (D-Va.). But the NRCC is also testing the waters in some districts to see which ones present viable opportunities to knock off Democratic incumbents.
The committee’s decision to spend money against Rep. Mike McIntyre (D) in North Carolina’s 7th district was unexpected. Democrats say the NRCC is wasting its time, but strategists won’t make a determination about whether to put more money into the race until they study polling taken in the wake of initial ad buys.
The NRCC has reserved $35 million across 55 districts so far this cycle, but some Republican insiders say they wouldn’t be surprised if as many as 10 races are added to that list by the middle of next month.
“The more the NRCC explores races and opportunities, the more Democratic Members will be ringing the DCCC’s phone off the hook for air cover,” GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said Monday.
But one Democratic strategist said some of the NRCC’s spending so far seems to be little more than head fakes and smoke signals.
“They have a bigger fishing expedition. ... You always do when you don’t have the majority,” the strategist said. “They are going to spend some money that will be wasted and then they’ll whittle down the board.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a $39 million to $25.6 million cash-on-hand advantage over the NRCC as of Aug. 31. Both parties are expected to take out loans and lines of credits to boost their late spending.
While Democrats are counting on their financial advantage to make the difference in some races, Republicans know they don’t need to spend as much to win the majority as Democrats need to save it because the national environment is so favorable for the GOP.
Republicans have made no secret of the fact that they hope to close the financial gap on the House side with the help of third-party groups. The NRCC and conservative groups such as American Crossroads and Americans for Job Security aren’t legally allowed to coordinate their efforts and strategy. But Democrats wonder whether the NRCC’s early spending has been a way to signal to those groups where it could use help.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.