GOP rushes to save House seats from flood of Demo­cratic money

The Beaufort Gazette (Sunday) - - News - BY JONATHAN MARTIN AND ALEXANDER BURNS

As the 2018 midterm cam­paign en­ters its fi­nal full week, House Repub­li­cans are rush­ing to for­tify their de­fenses in con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing dis­tricts they thought were se­cure, pour­ing mil­lions of dol­lars into a last-minute bid to build a new fire­wall against Democrats.

Repub­li­cans, in de­fend­ing a 23-seat ma­jor­ity, are likely to lose a hand­ful of open or Demo­cratic-tilt­ing seats as well as an­other dozen sub­ur­ban dis­tricts that Hil­lary Clin­ton car­ried in 2016, ac­cord­ing to po­lit­i­cal strate­gists in both par­ties. But now Repub­li­can of­fi­cials are in­creas­ingly con­cerned about Demo­cratic in­cur­sions in some of the re­main­ing 30 com­pet­i­tive dis­tricts on the House map where the Repub­li­can can­di­dates thought they had an edge.

For the fi­nal two weeks of the election, Demo­cratic cam­paigns and out­side groups are on track to sub­stan­tially out­spend Repub­li­cans, strate­gists on both sides say. Democrats are set to spend $143 mil­lion on tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing in House races, com­pared with $86 mil­lion for Repub­li­cans, ac­cord­ing to one anal­y­sis by a Demo­cratic strate­gist track­ing me­dia buys.

Demo­cratic su­per PACs and other out­side groups are poised to out­spend their Repub­li­can coun­ter­parts by a wide mar­gin, eras­ing an ad­van­tage Repub­li­cans planned on hav­ing.

Much of the Democrats’ unan­tic­i­pated fire­power comes from one source: Michael Bloomberg, the lib­eral for­mer New York City mayor who may run for pres­i­dent, plans to spend about $20 mil­lion on House ad­ver­tis­ing through his su­per PAC, In­de­pen­dence USA, in the fi­nal week of the cam­paign, a Bloomberg ad­viser said.

With Demo­cratic chal­lengers out-rais­ing their op­po­nents in more than 100 dis­tricts last quar­ter and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump en­er­giz­ing the left as well as his own base, well-fi­nanced House Repub­li­can groups are scram­bling to put down emerg­ing threats in states like Florida and Washington while aug­ment­ing ex­ist­ing spend­ing in Kansas, Vir­ginia and Min­nesota.

In a Florida district that in­cludes north­ern Palm Beach County, where Repub­li­cans have swept in dur­ing the clos­ing days of the race, first-term Rep. Brian Mast said he wel­comed the help.

“I don’t like be­ing hit over the head by out­side groups,” Mast said.

The midterm cam­paign has re­turned to the sort of bipo­lar dy­namic that de­fined it at the start of the year. Se­nate Repub­li­cans are con­fi­dent once again in re­tain­ing their one-seat ma­jor­ity in that cham­ber thanks to a fa­vor­able map of races. But Democrats are poised to pick up an ar­ray of gov­er­nor­ships in ma­jor states and could dis­lodge Repub­li­cans’ eight-year hold on the House.

Repub­li­cans hope they can keep the House if they sweep the clos­est races, a tall or­der given the Demo­cratic en­thu­si­asm in many dis­tricts.

But much of the Repub­li­can spend­ing is aimed less at se­cur­ing a ma­jor­ity than at lim­it­ing the breadth of a Demo­cratic takeover as the field of com­pe­ti­tion grows well be­yond 40 seats.

“It’s the sub­ur­ban seats and it’s the flow of money,” Rep. Tom Cole, a long­time Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can and for­mer House cam­paign chair­man, said of the party’s two over­rid­ing con­cerns.

Many Democrats re­main deeply scarred by Trump’s vic­tory, mem­o­ries that have been un­nerv­ingly re­vived by the re­cent spike in con­ser­va­tive en­thu­si­asm. But un­like at this mo­ment in the pres­i­den­tial election, when Clin­ton sought to har­den her party’s pu­ta­tive blue wall, it is Repub­li­cans who are on the de­fen­sive in the bat­tle for the House, with the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee and the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship – the two main groups fi­nanc­ing Repub­li­can ad­ver­tis­ing – rout­ing­money anew into cam­paigns.

“Some of the guys who should be in trou­ble are do­ing OK,” said Michael Steel, a long­time House Repub­li­can strate­gist, al­lud­ing to law­mak­ers in dis­tricts Trump lost or only nar­rowly car­ried. “But there ap­pear to be lit­tle fires every­where.”

The big­gest dan­ger for Repub­li­cans in House races re­mains in the mod­er­ate sub­urbs of blue states like New York, New Jersey and Cal­i­for­nia, where they could lose up to a dozen seats – half their mar­gin of con­trol. Then there are a hand­ful of other af­flu­ent dis­tricts just out­side other cities where vot­ers have re­coiled from Trump’s di­vi­sive style of pol­i­tics.

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