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Parties Look for Wave Surprises

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The National Republican Congressional Committee and conservative third-party groups such as American Crossroads are working feverishly to capitalize on the new opportunities of a rapidly expanding playing field ahead of what is expected to be a good night for the GOP on Tuesday.

As one GOP strategist put it Wednesday, “the more ships we have on the water when the wind is blowing our way, the more that are going to come ashore.”

Both parties are working to determine where the true late-breaking races are.

Today, the NRCC is going up with a television ad in Idaho’s 1st district as well as a radio ad in New York’s 1st district. Those ad buys represent the first independent expenditures that the NRCC has sunk into either district, although the GOP has long talked about targeting both.

The NRCC’s move Wednesday to spend $170,000 against Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) was less expected but not as surprising as a $15,000 media buy against Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) on Tuesday. Pingree represents a solidly Democratic seat that President Barack Obama carried by 23 points.

Also this week, the well-financed conservative group American Crossroads made $3 million in ad buys in House races, including a few places that have long been considered Democratic strongholds. Among the Democratic-held districts where Americans Crossroads has decided to play are those of Reps. Jim Costa (Calif.), Russ Carnahan (Mo.) and Maurice Hinchey (N.Y.).

“It really doesn’t matter at this point if Republicans are pushing the edge of the envelope in terms of new targets because there’s already very little question about the outcome of this election,” Democratic pollster Alan Secrest said. “There are many individual races still very much up in the air, but the die has been cast in terms of this year’s trend.”

With less than a week to go until Election Day, Republicans are also watching other Democratic-leaning districts, including those of Reps. Dave Loebsack (Iowa), Mike Michaud (Maine) and Solomon Ortiz (Texas), to see whether they become late-breaking races.

Democratic strategists contend that some of the new NRCC spending is defensive and is needed to counteract the flood of Democratic money that is being spent. For example, the spending on Rep. Tim Bishop’s race in New York comes after Democratic groups have been spending heavily to attack the Republican in the race.

“The reality is that Republicans have not closed the door on many of the races that they claim they were targeting,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Crider. “As a result, what they’re doing is throwing more spaghetti against the wall and hoping some of it sticks. Democrats are prepared. They won’t be taken by surprise, and it’s not going to work.”

Democratic surprises on Election Day may be tougher to identify.

“A lot of races that look like victories [for Democrats] will be categorized as a surprise just because of the environment,” Democratic pollster Peter Brodnitz said at a breakfast meeting hosted by Third Way on Wednesday.

But the biggest shockers for Democrats will likely come from Members who pull out victory despite being top targets.

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