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Pelosi to Democrats: Pay Up

Pelosi is pushing House Democrats to pay up. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel urged senior House Democrats Thursday to reinforce the House political arm's financial position in the campaign's final stretch.  

The DCCC, the envy of the political committee fundraising world , is feeling the pinch thanks to a flood of money coming from Republican-affiliated outside groups . Plus, there is increasing ire within the caucus at Democratic outside groups that are focusing their financial resources on Senate campaigns .  

Pelosi and Israel held a Thursday afternoon conference call with ranking members of House committees. Pelosi said that if Democrats lose seats, the party also will lose committee assignments, according to several Democrats who were on the call or briefed about it later.  

She further impressed upon the "rankers" — those top minority party members on House committees — the need to push rank-and-file members to pay their assigned party dues.  

"Clearly they need money, and they're putting the heat on," a Democrat who was on the call told CQ Roll Call.  

There is little time left.  

Television advertising reservations typically must be made two weeks out from air dates, so this final push comes in the waning days of House Democrats' ability to actually spend any new money they pull in.  

House Democrats conceded months ago they would not be able to net the 17 seats they need to win back the gavel this cycle. But in recent weeks, the concern is more about how the party is positioned for the 2016 elections, when Democrats say they have a viable path to House control.  

Democrats on the Hill pushed back against the notion the party is panicking, saying instead there is frustration the party is cutting loose  winnable races because Democratic-aligned women's rights, environmental and labor groups are spending at least $18 million less than they did in 2012, according to The Hill .  

Given the financial hole, the conference call was something of a party leadership rally.  

As his colleagues listened, Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland pledged an additional $50,000 to the committee. Van Hollen is a former two-term DCCC chairman. Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York also wrote a $50,000 check on Thursday, according to several Democratic sources.  

Both men had already paid off their assigned dues. (The amounts vary — from $125,000 to $800,000 on the high end — depending on leadership position, seniority and committee assignments.)  

On the call, Pelosi praised Homeland Security ranking member Bennie Thompson of Mississippi for meeting his his dues requirements. Financial Services ranking member Maxine Waters of California hasn't yet finished paying her dues, but she made a commitment of $50,000 on the call, to the relief of senior House operatives.  

Israel said no Democratic incumbent is a lost cause at this point, a bright point for Democrats after the previous two elections. The 2010 GOP wave delivered dozens of Democratic defeats. And in 2012, redistricting put the writing on the wall  early for some Democrats like now-ex-Rep. Larry Kissell of North Carolina.  

Still, that is little comfort as House Democrats have watched their offensive positions shrink.  

GOP outside groups amped up their spending in late September and that has only increased in recent days.  

Since Monday alone, conservative groups Congressional Leadership Fund and American Action Network laid down $6.3 million in television reservations targeting Reps. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire, Brad Schneider of Illinois, Ami Bera of California, Steve Southerland II of Florida, Julia Brownley of California and in the open-seat race to replace retiring New Jersey Rep. Jon Runyan.  

A source familiar with the groups anticipates more spending to surface in the coming days.  

In response to these and other moves, an increasingly defensive DCCC and the Democratic outside group House Majority PAC have executed the grim task of ending spending in mostly offensive races in order to shore up their Democratic incumbents.  

With a handful of exceptions, House Majority PAC, the DCCC and the candidates shouldered Democratic spending. The PAC made its cuts mostly in September. The DCCC delivered the final blows to campaigns this week:

  • On Monday, the DCCC made a slew of widely anticipated ad cancellations. Most were reserved earlier this year at bargain rates, before it was clear which races were truly competitive. Few political observers expected the DCCC to follow through on all of its reservations.
  • On Wednesday, the DCCC pulled out of Michigan's 1st District, where Republican Rep. Dan Benishek's 0.5 percent winning margin was so narrow the race was too-close-to-call on election night 2012.
  • On Thursday, the DCCC slashed a massive, seven-figure television reservation in the open-seat race for Virginia's 10th District in order to reinforce Democratic Rep. Ami Bera in California's 7th District. In recent days, news reports surfaced that AAN, CLF and American Crossroads were on track to spend over $3 million against the freshman.

At least one Democratic operative not involved in the DCCC Virginia decision said polling had suggested the race was winnable. The party just had to put their incumbents first.  

And so House Democrats and operatives are increasingly angry at allied groups for shirking the House while working to protect the Senate.  

"There are opportunities to go on offense all over the country that Democrats aren't able to seize upon because the Republican outside groups are simply outspending us," HMP Executive Director Ali Lapp told CQ Roll Call in an email, echoing scores of commentary on the Hill. Lapp functions as a sort of traffic cop  within the Democratic outside group world.  

"They're dumping millions into attacking our incumbents, and we have to be there to defend them," she added.  

While Democrats recognize they won't take control of the House in November, the festering concern is about 2016 and real efforts at reclaiming power.  

House Republicans scoff at Democratic angst, noting the GOP House campaign fundraising apparatus has struggled against the Senate campaigns in its own right all cycle long.  

One Republican operative noted that television spending-to-date has been lopsided in favor of Democrats. This source said that of the races rated competitive by the Rothenberg Political Report, Republicans have spent $25 million, compared with the Democrats' $43 million.  

They argue Democrats frontloaded their spending in August and September, and only now are GOP outside groups delivering and reaching parity.  

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