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 TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE and former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenManchin to vote to nix Biden's vaccine mandate for larger businesses Congress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight Senate cuts deal to clear government funding bill 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 McSallyBusiness groups, sensing victory, keep up pressure over tax hikes Kelly raises million in third quarter Ruben Gallego is left's favorite to take on Sinema 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 FinkenauerIowa Democrat drops bid to challenge Grassley after death of nephew Democrat Mike Franken launches challenge to Grassley in Iowa Trump says Grassley has his 'complete and total endorsement' MORE (D), Cindy AxneCindy AxneOn The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House Democrats call on leaders to pass supply chain legislation Top House Democratic group launches six-figure ad campaign to sell infrastructure package MORE (D) and Steve KingSteven (Steve) Arnold KingWar of words escalates in House House votes to censure Gosar and boot him from committees Pelosi on Gosar punishment: 'It's an emergency' 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 ErnstBiden picks former Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield to Iowa's USDA post Biden has just 33 percent approval rating in Iowa poll Overnight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' 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 PoliquinMaine Republican announces bid to return to Congress Trump battle with Fox News revived by Arizona projection Rep. Jared Golden wins reelection in Maine 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 CartwrightDearborn office of Rep. Debbie Dingell vandalized With Build Back Better, Dems aim to correct messaging missteps Pelosi calls for ethics, criminal investigations into Gosar MORE (D) represents the Scranton area. Rep. Scott PerryScott Gordon PerryJan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official Jan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote Newly elected Freedom Caucus chair tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R) holds the Harrisburg-based district. And Rep. Brian FitzpatrickBrian K. FitzpatrickBottom line Lawmakers who bucked their parties on the T infrastructure bill Framing our future beyond the climate crisis MORE (R), one of the few Republicans who holds a district Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion 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. 

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.