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Battle for the House Engages

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The DCCC has been pushing to expand its map, leading DCCC Chairman Steve Israel to remain confident the House is "absolutely in play."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee have begun their independent expenditure spending in earnest, and both are, more or less, on offense. The DCCC IE has aired or is airing ads in 16 races, three-quarters of which are against Republican Members. The NRCC IE has aired or is airing ads in 21 districts, about half of them against Democratic incumbents. Many of the Republican ads launched this week.

Both parties have been working to expand the map of competitive races. The NRCC has been airing ads, for example, against Iowa Democratic Reps. Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack, who have been considered in pretty comfortable shape to this point, especially Braley.

The DCCC has been pushing to expand its map in similar ways, leading DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) to remain confident the House is "absolutely in play."

Israel said August had been a good month for the party.

"I think we got our mojo back in August," he said in an interview with Roll Call last week.

The chairman cited three events he saw as moving the momentum behind his party. The first was GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) as his running mate, which he said helped to nationalize the debate about Medicare.

The second was Missouri GOP Senate nominee Rep. Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape." And the third was the revelation that some freshman House Members had gone swimming in the Sea of Galilee on an official trip to Israel last year - including one Member without his bathing suit.

Republicans deny Democrats have gotten any momentum at all in recent weeks, pointing to a still-troubled economic picture.

"Even Austin Powers understands that a jobs report showing 8.1 percent unemployment doesn't equal getting your mojo back," NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said in a statement. "The political environment for Democrats grows more toxic by the day."

Republicans are right that the economy will weigh heavily in a lot of voters' minds. And Akin and the Holy Land skinny-dip trip are likely to fade into the noise of the broader campaign between now and
Nov. 6. But Ryan and his budget will remain front and center in campaigns across the country.

House Democrats "were going to do that communication anyway, but now they are going to get all of that help from above reinforcing the message," said John Anzalone, a top Democratic pollster.

For most competitive and just-might-be competitive House races, the air wars are just beginning. But a few battles have evolved more fully.

One example is North Carolina's 7th district, where Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre faces a tough challenge from state Sen. David Rouzer. It's shaping up to be one of the more expensive races of the cycle. And in a sign of how fierce the fight already is, the House campaign committees have already spent more than $900,000 combined on the race. That figure doesn't include what the campaigns and third-party groups such as the
Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC have invested on TV in the race.

In a preview of how national messaging might play out in other competitive races, both House campaign committees have been working the Medicare issue hard.

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