House Democratic strategists are frustrated that key outside groups are putting their money into the fight for the Senate, leaving House campaigns starved for cash.
Spending on House races by organized labor as well as groups representing women and environmental organizations dropped by $18 million compared to the last cycle, the groups said.
Democrats are worried their lost seats in the House could be in the double digits, making it that much harder to take back the chamber in 2016, a presidential election year when the party hopes turnout will be better.
“There’s no question it’s going to be a tough year for House Democrats but it’s going to be a lot worse if outside groups stay on the sidelines,” said one Democratic strategist.
“You hear Republicans complain about the [National Republican Congressional Committee’s] weak fundraising, but the severe drop-off in outside spending on the Democratic side is just as big a deal. Leaving seats on the table doesn’t do anyone any good now or in 2016,” the strategist said.
According to public data compiled by a Democratic source tracking outside spending, liberal coalitions — labor, green and women’s groups — have spent $18 million less than what they invested in 2012.
The biggest drop-off is in labor.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) spent $8.3 million in 2012 to help House Democrats, but has only spent $181,500 in independent expenditures on House races this year.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (Afscme) also pitched in $6.3 million two years ago, but has only spent $612,000 to help House candidates so far in this cycle.
Both labor groups declined to comment.
The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) — which spent $4.2 million on House races in 2012 but just $1.1 million so far this year — admitted that, like other liberal groups, its focus has been elsewhere.
“We made a decision very early on that protecting the Senate firewall was our top priority,” LCV spokesman Jeff Gohringer told The Hill.
Worried consultants say they understand that logic, but warn the consequences will be felt in the House.
“I can’t blame them for making the decision they’re making, but it has repercussions on the ability for Democrats in House races to take advantage of every opportunity,” another Democratic strategist told The Hill.
Not all groups have backed off.
The House Majority PAC is on pace to spend more than last cycle, upwards of $21.5 million. But it’s not enough to fill the gap when Democrats are on the defensive in so many places.
“The drop-off in outside spending is creating a hole that is proving difficult to fill, which is costing us the ability to go on offense in races that could be in play,” said House Majority PAC spokesman Matt Thornton.
House Majority PAC has already had to roll back planned ad buys in several races where they expected liberal groups to step in and help. Late last month, it cancelled ad buys in New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois.
Republicans argue Democrats have consistently outraised them throughout the 2014 cycle, have outspent them in the most competitive House contests, and are just setting up their post-election blame game.
In August, the GOP committee brought in $4 million compared to the DCCC’s $10 million, and ended the month with $46 million in the bank compared to Democrats’ $55 million.
The well-heeled House Majority PAC has $21.4 million in ad reservations through Election Day, according to a Republican tracking ad buys, while the main GOP House outside group, American Action Network and its sister super-PAC Congressional Leadership Fund, have laid down $8 million for October. American Crossroads, also focused on the Senate, is playing in just one House race, Arkansas’s open 2nd District.
“Democrats have no lack of cover this election from liberal billionaires and extreme interest groups,” said Daniel Scarpinato, NRCC spokesman. “In major House races all across the country, President Obama, [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.] and their allies are outspending Republicans. Democrats are gonna need the cash — as the president said the other day, his policies are on the ballot, and they are dragging down his party’s candidates coast to coast.”
Despite being outspent, Republicans are looking to widen the playing field, targeting Reps. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), Ami BeraAmi BeraCalif. Dem wins reelection in overtime 115th Congress will be most racially diverse in history Dems' House gains narrow after loss in Nebraska MORE (D-Calif.) and Julia BrownleyJulia BrownleyHouse caucus to focus on business in Latin America House votes to restrict IRS hires and funding EMILY's List names incumbent Dems it will fundraise for MORE (D-Calif.) as well as an open seat formerly held by a Democrat in Maine.
For Democrats, the field is shrinking. Sources say top targets freshman Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), Rep. Dan BenishekDan BenishekRepublican groups launch final ad blitz in key House battlegrounds Tea Party class reassesses record Michigan Republican to retire MORE (R-Mich.) and open seats in Montana and Pennsylvania’s 6th District are all but lost.
Democrats are in good positions to win a handful of GOP-held seats, including an open seat in California’s 31st District. They are well poised to defeat incumbent Reps. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) and Lee Terry (R-Neb.).
But those victories won’t make up for the losses they’re expected to suffer in swing seats.
“A month ago or two months ago, I would have said we could probably lose four, five, or six seats, and still have a legitimate shot next cycle,” said one national Democratic strategist closely following House races.
“But if we lose double digits, there’s no way we can keep talking about 2016. That’s not a rebuilding year — that’s trying to survive.”
This post was updated at 4:09 p.m.