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Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Democrats and Republicans battling for control of the House are bombarding television sets across the nation with hundreds of millions of dollars in paid advertising in the closing weeks before Election Day, across what strategists say is the broadest playing field in a decade.

The four most prominent groups paying for advertising in House races are targeting 31 seats held by Democratic incumbents and 30 seats held by Republicans, according to the nonpartisan firm Advertising Analytics. Those seats stretch from the Alaskan tundra to the beaches of South Florida, from Orange County to rural Maine and seemingly everywhere in between.

“The Democrats wiped us out in areas that have been trending against us but are still friendly terrain for Republicans. They’re defending 31 seats that President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE won in 2016. That’s a big battlefield,” said Rob Simms, a former executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

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The advertising onslaught is being funded by wealthy donors and small-dollar givers alike, who have funneled an unprecedented amount of money into campaign coffers and outside groups. 

Just this week, the four largest of those groups — the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the allied House Majority PAC, and the National Republican Congressional Committee and its ally the Congressional Leadership Fund — will spend $66 million on television spots.

“We started the cycle with over 30 seats that Democrats represent that Trump won in 2016, and I think that a lot of folks assumed that is where all the action would be,” said Abby Horrell, who heads the House Majority PAC. “Republicans are playing in a lot of seats that they did not think that they were going to have to worry about defending. I think they find themselves in a much more difficult position.”

Arizona, where the airwaves are already crowded with advertising for and against President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE, is a microcosm of broader national trends, in which Democrats are targeting suburban districts and playing defense in more rural areas.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent almost $2.5 million since Sept. 1 targeting Rep. David SchweikertDavid SchweikertHouse GOP proposed rules change sparks concern Next Congress expected to have record diversity Embattled Schweikert beats back Democratic challenge in Arizona MORE (R), who represents a district that stretches from Scottsdale to Glendale, north of Phoenix. Trump won the district by 10 points four years ago, but a recent survey found Trump leading Biden by just 1 percentage point. The same survey showed Schweikert leading physician Hiral Tipirneni (D) by 3 points.

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Democrats have spent $3.7 million defending Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D), who represents a sprawling district that reaches from the Four Corners to the Phoenix suburbs. Republicans have dropped $1 million on behalf of their candidate, attorney Tiffany Shedd, in a district Trump narrowly carried in 2016.

That pattern is evident in a tumultuous cycle in which Republicans have found their standing diminished in suburban districts, even those where they survived in 2018. Republican groups are spending heavily to defend seats being vacated by retiring Reps. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallMcCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Bustos won't seek to chair DCCC again in wake of 2020 results MORE (R-Ga.), Kenny MarchantKenny Ewell MarchantRepublican Van Duyne wins race for Texas House seat Cook Political Report shifts 8 more House races toward Democrats Democrats seek wave to bolster House majority MORE (R-Texas), Pete OlsonPeter (Pete) Graham OlsonRepublican Fort Bend County Sheriff wins Texas House seat 10 bellwether House races to watch on election night Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade MORE (R-Texas) and Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingRundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Treasury withheld nearly M from FDNY 9/11 health program MORE (R-N.Y.).

Some veteran Republicans are facing significant challenges unlike any they are used to. Democrats have spent millions against Reps. Steve ChabotSteven (Steve) Joseph ChabotChabot wins tough race in Ohio  Democrats projected to retain House majority Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage MORE (R-Ohio), Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerDemocrats projected to retain House majority Live updates: Democrats seek to extend House advantage Democrats seek wave to bolster House majority MORE (R-Mo.), Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonHouse GOP votes to keep leaders in place This week: Clock ticks on coronavirus, government funding deals GOP Rep. Hudson holds on to North Carolina seat MORE (R-N.C.) and Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungCapitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 US reaches grim milestone of 250,000 coronavirus deaths MORE (R-Alaska).

At the same time, Republicans smell an opportunity to win several seats they have not held for generations, if ever. The Congressional Leadership Fund is running ads in Rep. Peter DeFazioPeter Anthony DeFazioOn the Trail: Five House results illustrate a politically divided America OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Down ballot races carry environmental implications | US officially exits Paris climate accord  Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade MORE’s (D) rural southwestern Oregon district and in Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindOn the Trail: Five House results illustrate a politically divided America Democratic Rep. Ron Kind fends off challenge in Wisconsin Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade MORE’s (D) western Wisconsin district. 

The GOP has reserved more than $6 million, one of its largest commitments to date, in television airtime aimed at Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonA louder voice for women everywhere Former Minnesota Democratic leader quits party GOP sees path to House majority in 2022 MORE (D), who holds a rural Minnesota district that backed Trump by 30 points in 2016. Peterson, who won his seat in 1990, faces former Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach (R) in November.

If the scope of the battlefield is broader than any since 2010, the scale of the spending is larger than any cycle ever. The two parties have committed a combined $10 million or more to television ads in 10 races. Democrats have blocked off more than $5 million in airtime in each of a dozen seats, and Republicans have reserved more than that in nine seats.

The heart of the battlefield remains suburban districts that Democrats won in the 2018 midterm elections, or where Republicans narrowly held on.

No one has been under the microscope more than Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-PowellDebbie Mucarsel-PowellThe Memo: Democrats see warning signs beyond 2020 Florida Democrat breaks down loss: 'It's not just about socialism' Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day MORE (D) and her rival, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez (R). The two parties have dropped a combined $15 million on their respective nominees. 

In New York, Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D) and ex-Rep. Claudia Tenney (R) have been the subjects of $14.4 million in combined spending. And in California, Rep. Mike Garcia (R) and Assemblywoman Christy Smith (D) have faced a combined $13.6 million onslaught in a rematch of their May 12 showdown.

But veterans of previous election contests say the amount of money available, to both candidates and outside groups, is funding ad blitzes in districts that have long been tantalizing but where competitive races have not materialized for one reason or another — districts like King’s and Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinRundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day House GOP celebrates unexpected gains Bipartisan bill would strengthen nation's infrastructure — reducing flood risk MORE’s (R) in New York, or DeFazio’s in Oregon and Kind’s in Wisconsin.

“Money is the biggest factor. If you have money — the committees and candidates — you can go places you wouldn’t otherwise think about,” Simms said.

Candidates for Congress raised a whopping $433 million in the third quarter of the year, a review of Federal Election Commission filings shows. Since the beginning of 2019, those candidates have combined to raise $1.3 billion. The two party committees have raised almost $450 million between them, and the two super PACs have added about $225 million more.

“We have very strong Democratic candidates running really smart, effective campaigns and they’re raising phenomenal resources with which to communicate their message to voters,” Horrell said. “It enables more flexibility when looking at the map, and it allows the Democratic candidates themselves to share their message with voters.”