Dems face hard choices

Dems face hard choices

Democratic leaders are deciding where to spend precious resources as they debate which Senate candidates can survive the Republican onslaught.

Eight states are emerging as the battlegrounds that will decide the margin of Senate control, according to interviews with Republican and Democratic strategists.

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They are Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Republicans need a net gain of 10 seats to win control of the chamber.

Recent public polls show the Democratic and Republican candidates in dead heats in Illinois and Nevada.

 A mid-September survey from a Democratic-leaning pollster shows Gov. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Manchin warns he'll slow-walk government funding bill until he gets deal on miners legislation MORE (D) slightly ahead in West Virginia. A late-September poll by Rasmussen, a Republican-leaning firm, shows his opponent, John Raese, with a slight edge.

Recent public polls show the Republican candidates ahead by a few points in Pennsylvania and with a more comfortable lead in Wisconsin.

Late-September surveys by Democratic consulting firms working for the party show neck-and-neck races in Colorado and Missouri. Some public polling shows a similarly tight race in Kentucky but a Rasmussen poll out Thursday gave the Republican an 11-point lead.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) agree that Colorado, Illinois and Nevada will be among the closest Senate races in the country.

There’s also an unspoken consensus that Republicans will pick up Senate seats in Arkansas, Indiana and North Dakota.

In Colorado, Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetYang: 2020 rivals in Senate should be able to campaign amid impeachment Trump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Schumer to colleagues running for White House: Impeachment comes first MORE (D) and his conservative challenger, Ken Buck, are sure to get the help of party money up until Election Day. In Illinois, Democratic candidate Alexi Giannoulias and Rep. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkWhy Republicans are afraid to call a key witness in the impeachment inquiry Ex-Rep. Duffy to join lobbying firm BGR Bottom Line MORE, the GOP nominee, will also receive substantial party support.

In Nevada, where TV airtime is relatively cheap, Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidNevada journalist: Harry Reid will play 'significant role' in Democratic primary The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached MORE (D-Nev.) and conservative challenger Sharron Angle are prolific fundraisers awash in campaign contributions. They will not need as much party help as other candidates.

The DSCC has not reserved any television airtime in Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina or Florida, according to Republicans who have tracked it.

The party committees can launch television advertisements at any time, but they often reserve time in advance to lock in lower rates. While strategists say the calculus may change, they believe the decision not to reserve time in those states signals that the DSCC has written off those races.

“The media buys of a presidential campaign or a national campaign like the Senate committee needs to run is the objective manifestation of their strategic intent,” said Tad Devine, a Democratic consultant who has handled media for 17 winning Senate races in his career.

“It sounds to me like those areas where the party has reserved time are critical for keeping as many seats as possible,” he said.

Democratic and Republican consultants interviewed by The Hill agreed that Democratic candidates have little chance of winning seats in any of the states where the DSCC has yet to reserve airtime. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid angering potential clients by passing judgment on various candidates.

Between the candidates in Colorado and Illinois who are certain to get party funding and those running in races no longer considered competitive, there are a bevy of incumbents and challengers vying for money from Washington.

DSCC Chairman Robert MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSaagar Enjeti says Corbyn's defeat in UK election represents 'dire warning' for Democrats Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Lankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman MORE (N.J.) told reporters at the National Press Club on Thursday that he will not tip his hand.

“I don’t telegraph where I spend my money,” he said. But Menendez’s spending decisions to date show where he thinks Democratic candidates have the best chance of winning. The DSCC is running ads in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report lists all of these races except Delaware as toss-ups.

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The NRSC, which has raised less money this cycle than its Democratic counterpart but has more cash on hand, is now running television ads in Colorado and West Virginia.

A spokesman for the NRSC said California, Connecticut and Washington should also be considered Senate battlegrounds. The Cook Report also lists those races as toss-ups.

He pointed to a report published Thursday that the DSCC has purchased $250,000 in airtime in Connecticut — which a DSCC spokeswoman declined to confirm or deny.

The NRSC argues it has been willing to make more of a commitment to California and Washington than the DSCC has in Arkansas, Indiana or New Hampshire.

The GOP committee has pledged $2 million in coordinated spending to Republican candidate Carly Fiorina in California and reserved $3 million in television airtime in Washington for the month of October.

But a Republican political strategist with Senate ties is skeptical of knocking off Sens. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerHillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Ocasio-Cortez blasts former Dem senator for helping Lyft fight gig worker bill Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Calif.) or Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills MORE (D-Wash.) or winning Connecticut, given the dominance Democrats have shown in those states in recent years.

The NRSC disputes that Missouri and Pennsylvania are battlegrounds, noting the DSCC spent more than $6 million in those two states since the middle of August and the GOP candidates still lead in the polls. The committee says the Republican candidate is also pulling away in Wisconsin, pointing to recent polling.

Democratic strategists, however, argued that Democratic spending in Pennsylvania has been countered by a deluge of television advertising from outside groups allied with the GOP.

Outside groups have spent about $5 million worth of advertising against Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.), the Democratic candidate, according to a Democratic tally.

The NRSC and GOP political consultants believe the Missouri and Kentucky Senate seats will stay in Republican hands because they are conservative-leaning states and the national political environment is a tough one for Democrats.

Two Democratic consultants interviewed by The Hill said they thought Missouri would be tough for Democrats to win, but the DSCC pointed to polling showing the Democratic candidate in a tight race.

Strategists also think the Democratic candidate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, has a shot because of controversial views expressed by Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday Talk Shows: Lawmakers look ahead to House vote on articles of impeachment, Senate trial Pentagon to take bigger role in vetting foreign students after Pensacola shooting Overnight Defense: House passes compromise defense bill | Turkey sanctions advance in Senate over Trump objections | Top general says military won't be 'raping, burning and pillaging' after Trump pardons MORE, the Republican nominee.

-- This story was updated at 12:13 p.m. on Oct. 1.