Despite months of preparations by the House campaign committees, the latest party spending — largely to fund TV ad buys — demonstrates the Congressional playing field remains relatively fluid three weeks before Election Day.
Party strategists are making the final spending decisions in an expanding midterm battleground, as both sides continue to refine their target lists and move ad money around at an expedited pace. Giddy Republicans are even talking about a field of competitive races that includes Democratic stalwarts like Reps. John Dingell (Mich.), James Oberstar (Minn.) and Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.), whose defeats would produce a Republican wave much larger than the 1994 epic.
Over the weekend, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s independent expenditure arm reported spending more than $8.2 million, the bulk of which went to fund TV commercials targeting Democrats in 29 districts. The committee is engaged in 56 districts and has spent more than a half-million dollars apiece in 11 races.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent about $12 million of the $52 million committee insiders have said will be spent by Election Day. Republicans have spent nearly $20 million of an estimated $45 million.
NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) said in an interview last week that the NRCC’s aggressive spending strategy in September and early October will negate Democrats’ late financial advantage.
“We’re going to get to Election Day and hope our momentum gets it done,” Sessions said. “We know they’ve got a strong air attack. ... We believe that we will have the momentum, with the enthusiasm that we see from the [poll] numbers that are coming out.”
The battle for freshman Rep. Mark Schauer’s Michigan district is set to become the first contest to top the $1 million mark in terms of committee IE spending; the NRCC hit $999,000 there this week.
Freshman Democratic Rep. Dina Titus’ race in Nevada could soon become the NRCC’s next million-dollar contest.
The committee has now spent almost $700,000 in the 3rd district, where ad rates have been increased because of hefty spending in the state’s high-profile Senate race.
After playing a game of chicken for most of September, the DCCC made its first big TV expenditures last week, burning through about $8 million. Although the DCCC is spending money in 48 races, the committee has yet to drop more than $626,000 in any one contest and has spent more than half a million dollars in just four races.
To put that in perspective, as of Oct. 13, 2006, there were 21 races where the parties had spent more than $1 million. At that point, Republicans had spent more than $1 million on 18 races as they were trying to protect their majority and hold back a surging Democratic tide. Democrats, who would go on to win the majority in the November elections, had spent more than $1 million on three races.
The decision by DCCC strategists to hold on to resources has left the DCCC with a larger bank account to employ in the final weeks of the cycle. However, outside groups could help Republicans fill the biggest gaps in the final weeks of the campaign.
With the ad wars engaged against most of the top-tier Democratic targets by now, Republicans are looking further down their lists as they try to figure out how far they can stretch the field by Nov. 2.