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GOP expands House target list; Democrats book airtime for defense

‘This is going to be a dogfight,’ NRCC Chairman Emmer says

California Rep. Julia Brownley is one of the Democrats added to the National Republican Campaign Committee's target list for the midterm elections.
California Rep. Julia Brownley is one of the Democrats added to the National Republican Campaign Committee's target list for the midterm elections. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

National Republicans, already bullish about their chances of taking back the House in November, announced an even more aggressive midterm strategy Wednesday and expanded the list of districts they are targeting into deeply Democratic territory. 

The announcement, from the National Republican Congressional Committee, came as House Majority PAC, the main super political action committee for House Democrats, announced its first major ad reservations of the cycle, allocating $101.8 million for television and digital advertisements for the campaign’s final months. 

In keeping with House Democrats’ more conservative campaign strategy so far this cycle, much of that spending will be focused on regions in which Democratic incumbents are seen as vulnerable. 

The parallel announcements indicate that both parties are solidifying their game plans as the campaign adopts a faster pace with the near completion of redistricting and the dwindling time to shift voters’ opinions before Election Day. 

“We know this is going to be a dogfight,” NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer said during a virtual news conference Wednesday morning. “But we do have the message, candidates and the resources that we’re going to need to win in November.”

That message, Emmer said, would hit the same notes Republicans have been hammering for months: high inflation rates, Americans’ perception that the economy is weak, and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings. 

Emmer also claimed an advantage in enthusiasm, which can be key in an off-year election in a president’s first term — when the party in power faces a historical disadvantage. “The other issue that’s becoming more and more apparent is our voters are a lot more energized than theirs,” he said. Emmer cited an NBC news poll released this week that showed Republicans had a 17-point enthusiasm advantage. 

But Democrats — who have been widely seen as the underdogs through much of the cycle — said perceptions of Republicans’ advantages have been overblown and that they are also gearing up for a fight. 

“Thanks to the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, our Democratic House Majority has delivered for the American people while Republicans have done nothing but obstruct and offer empty promises,” Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of House Majority PAC, said in a statement. “Through these historic television and digital reservations, House Majority PAC is making it clear that it is taking the early steps to do whatever it takes to protect and secure a Democratic House Majority in 2022.” 

NRCC targets 72 seats

The NRCC’s expanded list brings the number of districts the committee is targeting to 72 Democrat-held or newly created seats. Those districts include 12 that then-President Donald Trump would have won in the 2020 elections. 

And while Biden carried 27 of them by 10 points or fewer — a margin that is typically seen as an indication that a district could be competitive — 33 are in seats Biden won by healthy margins of 10 or more points. 

Seven of the targeted seats, in Florida, New Hampshire and Maryland, are in states that have not finalized their congressional maps, so the NRCC used the 2020 lines to determine whether they would be targeted, according to the committee.  

“We believe each and every Democrat that holds one of these seats is vulnerable,” Emmer said. 

Districts the committee is adding to the list include four races rated Solid Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales: California’s 26th, represented by Rep. Julia Brownley; Illinois’ 11th, represented by Rep. Bill Foster; Rhode Island’s 2nd, where Rep. Jim Langevin is retiring; and New Mexico’s 1st, where Rep. Melanie Stansbury won a special election in June that Democrats saw as a model of how to successfully counter Republican attacks in the midterms. 

The other districts the committee added to its target are California’s open 13th,  rated Likely Democratic by Inside Elections; Colorado’s open 8th, rated a Toss-Up; Florida’s 14th, represented by Kathy Castor, which is not yet rated; Florida’s 22nd, where Democrat Ted Deutch is resigning and is not yet rated; Michigan’s open 10th, where Rep. Andy Levin is leaving to run in the neighboring 11th, rated Tilt Republican;  Montana’s open 1st, rated Likely Republican; North Carolina’s 6th, represented by Democrat Kathy Manning, rated Likely Democratic; North Carolina’s open 13th, rated a Toss-Up; North Carolina’s open 14th, rated Likely Democratic; Nevada’s 1st District, represented by Dina Titus, rated Likely Democratic; Ohio’s 9th District, represented by Marcy Kaptur, not yet rated; Oregon’s open 6th District, rated Likely Democratic; and Texas’ open 38th District, rated Solid Republican. 

Gonzales said it was “smart” for Republicans to cast a wide net at this point in the cycle. 

“With so many problems facing the country, a large number of voters are looking for change this cycle, and it’s up to Republicans to have as many credible challengers in place to take advantage of that sentiment,” he said. “It will be at least a few months before Republicans will have to narrow the list a bit and decide where they are going to spend money.”

But Democrats — who failed to follow through on a similar promise to expand into Trump territory in 2020 — said they were happy to see the GOP spread itself so thin. 

“The NRCC can’t hide from the fact that while Democrats passed bills to lower costs and create millions of jobs, House Republicans stood in the way,” DCCC spokesperson Nebeyatt Betre said. “Republicans are running on a dangerous record of fighting to overturn elections and voting against legislation that helped ignite unprecedented economic growth while their leaders promise middle-class tax hikes if they get power in Washington. Voters won’t be fooled.” 

Democrats shore up their base

Of the House Majority PAC reservations, more than $86 million is reserved for television ads, which is more than the group’s first reservations of the 2020 campaign. While the group hasn’t yet announced which campaigns the ads will support, the reservations are in 50 media markets, including some that could cover multiple races. 

The reservations include $1.7 million in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., an area represented by Rep. Matt Cartwright; $960,000 in Des Moines, Iowa, likely to support Rep. Cindy Axne; and $600,000 around Bangor, Maine, which could support Rep. Jared Golden

Other regions where the group plans to spend millions include Los Angeles, where it has reserved more than $7 million in advertising; Las Vegas, where it has reserved more than $11 million; and Phoenix, where it has made plans to spend more than $6 million.

The group is also reserving ad time in Tucson, Ariz.; Bakersfield, Fresno, Sacramento and San Diego, Calif.; Denver; Washington, D.C.; Peoria and Rockford, Ill.; Quad Cities, Iowa; Albany, Columbus and Macon, Ga.; Boston; Presque Isle and Portland, Maine; Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and Lansing, Mich.; Minneapolis; Kansas City, Mo.; Omaha, Neb.; Manchester, N.H.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Raleigh, N.C.; Bend and Portland, Ore.; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh; Corpus Christi, El Paso, Harlingen, Laredo and San Antonio, Texas; Norfolk, Va.; Seattle; and La Crosse and Wausau, Wis.

While the ad reservations could help shore up Democratic candidates down the final stretch of the campaign, Democrats argue that the redistricting process favored them in several states.

But Republicans say the reservations are a sign that Democrats are on defense. 

“I think they believe they’ve already lost the majority. This is about staving off losses in some deep blue, traditionally Democratic areas,” said Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership.

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