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House Democrats book $18.3 million in fall TV ads

Media markets overlap with presidential and Senate battlegrounds

The House Democrats' campaign arm is reserving more than $1.4 million in airtime this fall in Maine, where Rep. Jared Golden is one of 30 Democrats seeking reelection in districts President Donald Trump carried in 2016.
The House Democrats' campaign arm is reserving more than $1.4 million in airtime this fall in Maine, where Rep. Jared Golden is one of 30 Democrats seeking reelection in districts President Donald Trump carried in 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Corrected, 4:09 p.m. | ANALYSIS — With less than six months before Election Day, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved more than $18.3 million in airtime for broadcast television ads during the final months of the campaign.

It’s likely the first of multiple rounds of reservations, considering the committee’s independent expenditure arm spent more than $73 million on TV during the 2018 cycle.

This initial round of reservations overlaps with the Senate and presidential battleground states, including Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and Pennsylvania, where media markets are likely to get crowded and expensive.

Back in April, the two biggest partisan super PACs placed nearly $100 million combined in initial ad reservations — $43 million by the GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund and $51 million by the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC. The National Republican Congressional Committee hasn’t made its initial ad reservations.

A few years ago, political reporters rightly handled TV ad reservations loosely and delicately as strategists from both parties used them to play games. Strategists would make some reservations with little or no intent to fulfill them in order to fake out the other party, the media or both.

Moves signal strategy

But now, groups and committees who can’t legally coordinate are able to communicate through ad reservations in an effort to blanket battleground districts with ads. Party strategists can’t afford to pull in and out of competitive races or abruptly shift advertising plans because television spending strategies are more integrated.

Also, reservations are made by media market and are sometimes designated for a specific district (to communicate intent to allies), but groups have flexibility to switch races within a market.

Taking the DCCC, HMP and CLF reservations together, some clear patterns and battlegrounds are emerging.

The DCCC and HMP have reserved nearly $3 million in the Phoenix media market. That could be to defend Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran in Arizona’s 1st District, but could also be used to take on GOP Rep. David Schweikert, who already trails Democratic challenger Hiral Tirpirneni in fundraising in the 6th District. CLF did not make an initial reservation in Phoenix, which will be crowded with competitive races for Senate and president.

The DCCC and HMP have also reserved more than $5 million in the Miami market, which could be used to defend Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Florida’s 26th District. Republicans are particularly bullish on defeating Mucarsel-Powell, but CLF did not make an initial reservation.

Georgia is emerging as a top battleground, with $6.5 million in initial ad reservations for Democrats and $3.2 million for CLF. Republicans are looking to take back the 6th District and defend the open 7th.

With $1.6 million in reservations from the DCCC, Iowa has nearly $10 million in ad reservations from the three big groups combined. That makes sense, considering all four of Iowa’s House races are competitive.

Maine Rep. Jared Golden, one of 30 Democrats representing seats President Donald Trump carried in 2016, is a top GOP target. The DCCC’s $1.43 million brings total reservations to $5.5 million thus far.

Nevada backstop?

The DCCC’s $2.21 million reservation in Las Vegas brings the party’s initial investment to $6.6 million. Nevada isn’t regarded as one of the top presidential battlegrounds, and Democratic Reps. Susie Lee and Steven Horsford are not on the cusp of defeat. So the reservations make sure Democrats are in a place to defend, if necessary.

Democrats have reserved $13.5 million in TV ads in Philadelphia (including $910,000 from the DCCC) which could be spent to take on Republican Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania’s 1st District) or party-switcher Jeff Van Drew (New Jersey’s 2nd). It could also be used to defend New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim in the 3rd District.

The DCCC didn’t make initial reservations in Texas or Virginia, likely because they are not presidential or Senate battlegrounds. In California, where the GOP took back a seat in the 25th District special election earlier this month, CLF announced $4.6 million in reservations on the Republican side, while HMP reserved $4.3 million as part of an $18 million second round of reservations in May.

The DCCC’s initial reservations are more than $5 million more than its $12.6 million initial ad reservation in 2018, according to a committee aide. In addition, the DCCC is making more than $3 million in digital ad reservations this cycle across nearly 40 districts.

Here’s a full breakdown of the reservations by media market, arranged alphabetically by state:

  • Phoenix — $1,830,000
  • Miami — 1,970,000
  • Atlanta — $2,000,000
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa — $730,000
  • Davenport, Iowa — $340,000
  • Des Moines, Iowa — $1,252,800
  • Bangor, Maine — $580,000
  • Portland-Auburn, Maine — $790,000
  • Presque Isle, Maine — $60,000
  • Detroit — $2,160,000
  • Minneapolis — $2,090,000
  • Las Vegas — $2,210,000
  • Philadelphia — $910,000
  • Harrisburg, Pa. — $1,000,000
  • Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa. — $400,000

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call. Jacob Rubashkin contributed to this report.

Correction: This report was corrected to reflect HMP’s second round of ad reservations.

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