One of the main Democratic super-PACs backing the party’s efforts to take back the House might not have succeeded in that end goal, but it did win nearly two-thirds of the races in which it invested in an impressive showing for an outside spending group.
House Majority PAC raised and spent about $36 million this past cycle, engaging in 52 House races nationwide in an effort to, as spokesman Andy Stone put it, “serve as the bulwark” against the heavy outside GOP spending that Democrats believe helped Republicans win an historic number of seats in 2010.
The closest GOP equivalent to House Majority PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, and its affiliated nonprofit, the American Action Network, went on air in 19 races, 12 of which Republicans won and seven they lost.
Stone said that much of the success of House Majority PAC was due to its focus, similar to that of other outside Democratic groups, of buying airtime early.
In Arizona’s 9th District, CLF spent more than $100,000 more to purchase a little more than one third of the airtime House Majority PAC had reserved, Stone said. And in California’s 52nd District, House Majority PAC spent a little more than half of what Americans for Tax Reform, the conservative group backed by Grover Norquist, spent to reserve about the same amount of airspace.
And the paid media mattered, Stone said, as proven by the races in which House Majority PAC spent big but lost. The political action committee spent $1.4 million to boost Betty Sutton's chances in Ohio’s 16th District, and $980,000 in Colorado’s 6th District to back Joe Miklosi.
“One of the takeaways from both of those races is the power of paid advertising, in particular in CO-6. It was getting increasingly competitive, we could see, and had there been additional resources available we may have seen a different outcome,” he said.
In Colorado’s 6th, House Majority PAC launched a particularly jarring ad featuring three people telling voters how Republican Mike Coffman’s opposition to stem cell research would affect their lives, an attack that Stone said helped keep the race tight till the end.
Unique among most outside spending groups, however, was House Majority PAC’s emphasis on coordinating spending among other Democratic groups, to stretch their dollars further.
“House Majority PAC existed as the one Democratic outside group that was solely interested in numbers, solely interested in electing Democrats to the House,” Stone said.
Because of this emphasis not on ideological purity or specific policy positions but on basic numeric gains, House Majority PAC was able to work with other outside Democratic groups that perhaps had a more specific focus to fill in spending gaps.
In Illinois’ 17th District, for instance, House Majority PAC and SEIU joined up to reserve airtime in three media markets serving the district, and EMILY’s List issued mailers focusing specifically on women’s issues to female voters in the area.
“Multiple groups express interest in those races, and so House Majority PAC worked with them to figure out, to make sure that each piece of the political program was covered and that the best messenger on each subject was communicating that message,” Stone said.
It’s an advantage that GOP outside spending groups generally lacked. Though the bigger groups investing in House contests rarely, if ever, overlapped, they also rarely coordinated their efforts in specific districts.
House Majority PAC is already retooling for 2014, though Stone said the group doesn't yet have any clear targets in mind.
"As long as these are the rules of the road," he said, referring to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that paved the way for the creation of super-PACs, "House Majority PAC will continue to exist to combat outside money and Karl Rove's influence."
--This post has been updated to reflect that HMP spent to support Betty Sutton in Ohio's 16th district.