Early Battlefields Emerge in Middle America

Posted October 8, 2010 at 10:10am

While the fight for the control of the House of Representatives is taking place on a battlefield that includes almost every state (Alaska and Wyoming are among the exceptions), four Congressional districts have emerged as early battlegrounds in the independent expenditures war being waged by the two parties’ campaign committees.

[IMGCAP(1)]Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee have plowed resources into or reserved TV time in three open seats — Arkansas’ 1st district, Michigan’s 1st district and Wisconsin’s 7th district — and into Michigan’s 7th district, where freshman Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer and former Rep. Tim Walberg (R) are in a battle.

The Arkansas seat, currently held by retiring Democratic Rep. Marion Berry, pits businessman and agricultural broadcaster Rick Crawford (R) against Berry’s former chief of staff, Chad Causey (D).

Crawford is a classic outsider — someone who has never been involved in politics and has had to learn to become a candidate. Politics comes more easily to Causey, but his Washington, D.C., connections and Democratic label are not assets in this kind of year and political environment.

The DCCC recently upped its TV buy in the Memphis and Jonesboro media markets, and the committee has already invested or reserved more than $1.2 million in the race. The NRCC, in turn, has reserved more than $770,000 of time, and the American Future Fund got in early for Crawford. Total non-candidate spending could exceed $2.2 million in a district that had a median income of $28,940, according to the 2000 census.

Michigan’s 1st district is usually identified as the “U.P. seat,” though it includes plenty of territory south of the state’s Upper Peninsula. Rep. Bart Stupak (D) is retiring, and this socially conservative area looks to be a prime target for Republicans.

But the GOP frontrunner was upset in the primary by surgeon Dan Benishek, another untested political unknown. The Democrats, in contrast, nominated state Rep. Gary McDowell.

Both parties and outside groups have invested in the race and reserved time for the final weeks of the campaign, which now looks like a jump ball. American Future Fund, Americans for Prosperity and the NRCC have all been on the air for the Republican side, while McDowell has been up and received heavy support from the DCCC’s IE effort and more modest support from the Michigan Democratic Party.

Outside groups so far have committed almost $1.8 million to the race, according to GOP operatives who are tracking candidate and outside spending.

Currently held by retiring Democratic Rep. David Obey, Wisconsin’s 7th district has seen an unusually early aggressive battle between Ashland County Prosecutor Sean Duffy (R) and state Sen. Julie Lassa, the Democrat who hopes to hold the seat for her party.

While the district leans Democratic, in this political environment it is a tossup. Democrats acknowledge that Duffy started off ahead, but they insist that after they blasted him on TV, the contest closed dramatically.

Each of the party IE operations has so far spent more than $300,000 in the district, and the NRCC and DCCC have each reserved at least 7,000 gross ratings points for the entire race, in a district that takes in much of northwest Wisconsin and undoubtedly includes more cows than voters.

Finally, as of the beginning of October, the NRCC’s independent expenditure effort had spent more money in Michigan’s 7th district than any other district in the country.

Initially, Walberg looked to have a strong chance to reclaim his old House seat. But Democrats have fought back, with the DCCC’s IE pounding Walberg for saying that he favors the privatization of Social Security and for setting a date certain after which people could opt out of the program. Even Republican operatives think that Walberg seriously hurt his prospects.

As of Oct. 2, according to Roll Call, the NRCC had poured in almost $800,000 to this district to help Walberg. Americans for Prosperity and American Future Fund have reserved TV time costing an additional $700,000.

On the Democratic side, the DCCC has committed close to $1.2 million, with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees dumping in an additional $900,000 and the Communications Workers of America spending just over $50,000 to date.

Given that Schauer has reserved about 10,000 points on broadcast and plans to spend an additional $300,000 on cable TV, for a total of more than $1 million, this race looks like a money pit for all concerned.