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House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states

House Democrats make initial ad buys in battleground states
© Greg Nash

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has reserved more than $18 million in fall television time, an initial foray into the media market that shines a light on where the fight for control of the House of Representatives will likely be focused.

Several of the key battlegrounds are in states and districts where President TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBudowsky: A Biden-McConnell state of emergency summit DC might win US House vote if it tries Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman inks deal with IMG Models MORE are most likely to center their own paid media blitzes. Many of the same areas also have competitive Senate contests, a reflection that the epicenters of American politics are converging on a few key regions.

The DCCC has purchased $1.8 million in airtime in the Phoenix market, where Reps. Tom O'Halleran (D) and Dave Schweikert (R) both face competitive reelection battles. Arizona has emerged as a key pickup opportunity for Senate Democrats challenging Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyCindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' Arizona state GOP moves to censure Cindy McCain, Jeff Flake Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed MORE (R), and signs increasingly point to a competitive race in the state between Biden and Trump. The president won Arizona in 2016, but Biden has led every public poll there since December.

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The committee is blocking off $2.3 million in three Iowa markets — Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport — where the parties will contest seats held by Reps. Abby FinkenauerAbby Lea FinkenauerChamber of Commerce slams GOP effort to challenge Biden's win Iowa losses underscore Democrats' struggles with attracting rural voters Here are the 17 GOP women newly elected to the House this year MORE (D), Cindy AxneCindy AxneWill Pelosi bail out the GOP on election controversy Iowa losses underscore Democrats' struggles with attracting rural voters Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus MORE (D) and Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingWhat Martin Luther King, at 39, taught me at 35 Former Iowa House candidate calls on Democrats to build party's 'long-term vision' Feenstra wins Iowa House race to fill Steve King's seat MORE (R), as well as an open seat being vacated by Rep. David Loebsack (D). The two parties are also fighting over a Senate seat held by Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' Senate confirms Biden's intel chief, giving him first Cabinet official Democrats torn on impeachment trial timing MORE (R).

Democrats have reserved $1.4 million in three Maine media markets to protect Rep. Jared Golden, the only Democrat who split his votes on the two impeachment charges against Trump. Golden became the first member of Congress to win election because of a ranked-choice voting system when he beat then-Rep. Bruce PoliquinBruce Lee PoliquinTrump battle with Fox News revived by Arizona projection Rep. Jared Golden wins reelection in Maine Senate control in flux as counting goes forward in key states MORE (R) in 2018. Trump won his district, and its lone electoral vote, in 2016. 

The party is betting big in Pennsylvania, where they plan $910,000 in spending in the Philadelphia market, $1 million in Harrisburg and $400,000 for two weeks of time in the Wilkes Barre-Scranton markets.

Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightHouse Democrats pick Aguilar as No. 6 leader in next Congress Democrats to determine leaders after disappointing election The Hill's Campaign Newsletter: Election Day – Part 4 MORE (D) represents the Scranton area. Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Focus on vaccine, virus, travel NYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Democrats to levy fines on maskless lawmakers on House floor MORE (R) holds the Harrisburg-based district. And Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickCalls grow for 9/11-style panel to probe Capitol attack Trump's assault on the federal government isn't over Growing number of GOP lawmakers say they support impeachment MORE (R), one of the few Republicans who holds a district Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSenate to vote Tuesday on Biden's secretary of State pick Portman planned exit sets off Ohio free-for-all Biden must wait weekend for State Department pick MORE won in 2016, is the likely target of the Philadelphia spending.

Democrats also plan millions in spending in Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis and Las Vegas, all media markets where Democratic freshman incumbents may be vulnerable to Republican challengers. 

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The DCCC has also plunked down $3 million in early reservations for digital advertising in almost 40 districts across the country, a committee aide tells The Hill. That early spending will allow the committee to pick its ad placement spots long before competitive bidding drives prices up. 

The two parties and their affiliated super PACs tend to make early advertising reservations in a series of waves to lock in prices before they begin to rise. The committees have until just hours before the ads are scheduled to run to pull them, in case a race begins to look safe enough to abandon or too difficult to win.

The DCCC's ad reservations are only its first foray of many into the post-Labor Day market. In 2018, the party's initial ad buys totaled $12.6 million, about two-thirds of this year's buy; the DCCC ended up spending more than $73 million on television that cycle.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has not yet begun purchasing its own fall advertising, though it is likely to do so in the coming weeks.  

The DCCC has an early edge on its Republican rivals. The most recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission show the DCCC has $82 million in the bank, compared with $52 million the NRCC has squirreled away. 

The two largest political action committees that back the two parties have already started making their own reservations: The Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC has reserved $43 million in airtime, and the Republican-backing Congressional Leadership Fund has blocked off $51 million for television time.