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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 TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech 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 eyes bigger US role in global vaccination efforts Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech Kemp: Pulling All-Star game out of Atlanta will hurt business owners of color 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 SchweikertBiden meets with bipartisan senators to discuss potential infrastructure bill Lawmakers offer competing priorities for infrastructure plans The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Which path will Democrats take on COVID-19 bill? 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 OlsonHouse Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Republican Fort Bend County Sheriff wins Texas House seat 10 bellwether House races to watch on election night MORE (R-Texas) and Pete KingPeter (Pete) KingNewsmax anchor Greg Kelly to host New York radio show Top GOP lawmakers call for Swalwell to be removed from Intelligence Committee Republican Garbarino wins election to replace retiring Rep. Pete King 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 ChabotREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results House Republicans who didn't sign onto the Texas lawsuit Top GOP lawmaker touts 'more flexible' PPP loans in bipartisan proposal MORE (R-Ohio), Ann WagnerAnn Louise WagnerGOP seeks new line of attack on Biden economic plans Trump pollster: Greitens leads big in Missouri GOP Senate primary Missouri Senate candidate Eric Greitens tangles with Hugh Hewitt in testy interview MORE (R-Mo.), Richard HudsonRichard Lane HudsonNeed for national concealed carry reciprocity at all-time high Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' New Democratic super PAC to target swing-district Republicans over vote to overturn election MORE (R-N.C.) and Don YoungDonald (Don) Edwin YoungButtigieg charms Washington with his accessibility Pro-union bill passes House, setting up lobbying battle in Senate Lobbyists eager for return to earmarks 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 DeFazioPelosi wants Biden infrastructure bill done by August The Hill's Morning Report - Biden: Let's make a deal on infrastructure, taxes Senate Democrats reintroduce bill to create financial transaction tax MORE’s (D) rural southwestern Oregon district and in Rep. Ron KindRonald (Ron) James KindTrump calls on Ron Johnson to run for reelection Bottom line Johnson, Grassley indecision freezes key Senate races 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 PetersonSix ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office |Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico | Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel 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-PowellTrump, Florida complicate Biden approach to Cuba The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Coast-to-coast fears about post-holiday COVID-19 spread The Memo: Democrats see warning signs beyond 2020 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 ZeldinBiden funding decision inflames debate over textbooks for Palestinian refugees Rep. Lee Zeldin announces bid for New York governor Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions 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.”