WASHINGTON — Democrats say they are prepared to spend $49 million on TV ads during the final weeks of the midterm elections in their effort to maintain a House majority in the face of a strong challenge by Republicans and an anti-establishment bent among voters.
Advertising plans reviewed by The Associated Press showed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserving ad time to defend seats served by fellow lawmakers who were retiring, seeking Senate seats or among the most unlikely freshmen to win re-election.
The ad reservations bring the total number of House districts that party strategists are willing to discuss publicly to 60, including several served by Republicans who are either retiring or are seen as exceptionally vulnerable. Democrats control 255 seats in the House, with 178 Republicans and two vacancies. The GOP needs to gain 40 seats to capture control.
Democrats face a tough political climate this year amid voter frustration with Obama and the Democratic agenda. Polls show a drop in support for the party, with economic woes and job losses taking a toll on the party in power.
The DCCC has a 2-to-1 edge over Republicans in campaign cash. Fundraising reports show the Democrats with $34 million banked, and the National Republican Congressional Committee with $17 million in cash on hand.
But the media markets discussed in the advertising plan – from Spokane, Wash., to Burlington, Vt. – are all defensive and underscore Democratic recognition of the challenge the party faces.
There is no cost for political committees to reserve the air time. By reserving the time early, political committees can buy the time at discounted prices and ensure that, should they need it, they have a store of 30- and 60-second spots. If during the next three months the races appear heading toward a blowout, the political committees can bail and shift those ad dollars elsewhere.
The ad plan reviewed Tuesday offers an early blueprint – or head fake – of how Democrats will approach their fight to keep the House.
For example, Democrats reserved ad time in Hawaii to challenge Republican Rep. Charles Djou, who won a special election to represent President Barack Obama's childhood House district. Similarly, they've reserved time in the districts of Republican Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware, who is running for the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden's election, and Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, who is seeking Obama's former Senate seat in Illinois.
The district of Rep. Joe Sestak, who won the Democratic nomination for the Senate in Pennsylvania, also won air time reservations.
Some of the seats are in play, such as Rep. Brad Ellsworth's district in Indiana. Ellsworth, a two-term Democrat, is seeking a Senate seat and could be replaced by Democratic state Rep. Trent Van Haaften. That southwest Indiana district earned an ad reservation.
Others, though, are less certain. Rep. David Obey's announcement he would retire from his powerful Appropriations Committee chairmanship left Democrats scrambling in that Wisconsin district. The retirement of Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan similarly left Democrats looking for a candidate.
Other congressional districts simply benefited from media market overlap. In New Hampshire, for instance, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter's district overlaps with that of Rep. Paul Hodes, who is seeking a Senate seat instead of a third term. The primary there is not until September, but House Democrats are reserving time in case either race develops into a brutal challenge.
First-term members have ads reserved for them, if needed. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio, whose election took weeks to certify in 2008, has time reserved, as does freshman Rep. Kurt Shrader of Oregon. Reps. John Boccieri and Steve Driehaus of Ohio, Rep. Suzanne Kosmas of Florida and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona all started their jobs as top GOP targets.
And the Democrats' ad strategy so far includes a defense of their vulnerable – and most powerful – incumbents, such as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri and Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina.
Looking to pick up a seat, Democrats have reserved time in the district of Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana, who was the only Republican congressman who voted in support of any part of Obama's health care overhaul. Democrats see him as vulnerable in that New Orleans district.