GOP rushes to save House seats from flood of Democratic money
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 – routing money 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.