DCCC, NRCC Tip Hands

Posted September 8, 2004 at 6:28pm

Seeking to demonstrate that it plans to fight House Republicans to a draw in the fall air wars, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved time in 30 media markets for a massive independent expenditure advertising campaign.

The first of those ads is set to begin Tuesday in the Buffalo media market, which covers the Democratic-leaning 27th district being vacated by Rep. Jack Quinn (R). The ads are scheduled to run through the Nov. 2 election.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has yet to reserve any air time in that market, one of 15 where the DCCC has laid down a marker and the NRCC has yet to do so.

In the Tyler and Beaumont markets, both in Texas, the NRCC has reserved television time while the DCCC has not.

Information on the ad buys of both party committees came from sources on both sides of the aisle, who declined to be identified on the record.

Greg Speed, communications director at the DCCC, said of the ad buys: “The time reserved so far confirms what we’ve said all along, that House Republicans are playing defense in this election.”

He pointed out that two-thirds of the buys to date are in media markets that cover Republican-held seats.

NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti refused to comment on the specifics of his organization’s ad spending.

“We don’t comment on our October strategy,” Forti said.

The decision by both committees to begin reserving time in markets around the country provides the first indicator of the races where they will actually spend the millions of dollars raised this cycle.

Unlike in elections past, all of the advertising done for the party committees must be paid for in hard dollars, which can be raised in chunks no larger than $2,000.

Prior to the passage of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in 2002, soft money, which could be raised in unlimited amounts, was used by the party committees to fuel issue advocacy television campaigns leading up to the election.

Though the first flight of scheduled ads is far less extensive than in campaigns past, sources on both sides caution that this is certain to be the tip of the iceberg in a growing list of media markets and districts where these independent expenditures will run.

In the vast majority of these media markets, the ads were placed early in order to reserve preferred time slots, as the airwaves are likely to be crammed with spending by the presidential candidates, third-party groups focused on the top of the ballot and high-profile Senate races.

By placing buys earlier than usual, Democratic media buyers insist they have saved themselves a significant amount of money because as demand for ad time increases, the cost per point rises exponentially.

The DCCC’s buying decisions amount to a confirmation of their target list, which focuses on Democratic-leaning seats being vacated by Republican incumbents.

At the top of that list is the Buffalo-area 27th district, where the DCCC has bought 7 weeks of ad time likely to benefit state Assemblyman Brian Higgins (D), the overwhelming favorite in Tuesday’s primary.

To date, the NRCC has so far bought no time on behalf of Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples (R), who will be their party’s nominee.

The DCCC’s heavy commitment to Higgins appears based on two factors: the Democratic tilt of the district and his poor fundraising.

Though Quinn has held the seat since 1992, it is extremely fertile ground for Democrats. In the 2000 presidential race, Al Gore took 53 percent in the 27th, one of his best showings in a Republican-held Congressional district.

Even so, Higgins has largely failed to match Naples’ fundraising.

As of Aug. 25, Naples had $651,000 in the bank compared to $169,000 for Higgins.

The DCCC ad buy is aimed at keeping Higgins viable while he attempts to raise the money necessary to match Naples on the air.

The DCCC has bought six weeks of time in the Seattle market, which covers the 8th district of Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R). The NRCC has yet to reserve any time.

Dunn is retiring at the end of 108th Congress and Democrats see the district as a must-win if they have any chance of taking back the House.

Former Real Networks executive Alex Alben is facing former talk radio host Dave Ross in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Among Republican incumbents, the DCCC is going after many of the usual suspects including freshman Reps. Bob Beauprez (Colo.) and Rick Renzi (Ariz.) as well as Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.).

But, they are also committed to spending money on four weeks of television in the Davenport and Cedar Rapids markets, which include Rep. Jim Nussle’s 1st district, three weeks in the Tampa market that covers Rep. Katherine Harris’ (Fla.) 13th district and four weeks in the Greenville, S.C. market that includes Rep. Charles Taylor’s (N.C.) 11th district.

The NRCC’s initial ad placement covers only 17 media markets but does show that the committee has made a major commitment to holding its open 3rd district seat in rural Colorado as well as taking out several endangered Democratic incumbents in Texas.

The most significant marker put down by the NRCC to date is in two markets — Colorado Springs/Pueblo and Grand Junction — that cover the majority of the rural 3rd district where Rep. Scott McInnis (R) is retiring after six terms.

State Rep. John Salazar is the Democratic nominee while former Department of Natural Resources Secretary Greg Walcher will be the Republican standard bearer.

Walcher emerged with a narrow victory in the state’s Aug. 10 primary and Republicans acknowledge he begins the general election behind Salazar.

In Texas, where Republican remappers drastically redrew the state’s Congressional lines in 2003, Reps. Max Sandlin and Nick Lampson are two of five Lone State Democrats seen as seriously endangered.

Texas Reps. Martin Frost, Charlie Stenholm and Chet Edwards are also being targeted by national Republicans.