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The battle for the House: Where are the two parties spending their money?

By Aaron Blake

The two national party committees tasked with winning House seats have begun to spend down their bank accounts on scads of ads that provide our best window yet into what each side views as its biggest opportunities and vulnerabilities.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has now bought ad time in 31 districts, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has bought time in 24. The NRCC has spent nearly $6 million as compared to $3.7 million for the DCCC.

The NRCC and DCCC have also reserved time in 55 and 67 districts, respectively, but reserving time is not the same as actually buying it since money can be moved almost until the moment the ads are scheduled to run.

For the most part, the seats considered most vulnerable to switching parties are being ignored by both sides -- a sign that they may well be lost causes. Most of the districts targeted thus far are considered second-tier pickups -- the seats that will almost certainly make the difference between Republicans winning 39 seats, and not.

There's any number of ways to slice and dice the data but we decided to break them down into three categories: districts where both committees are up with ads, districts where only Democrats are running commercials and districts where only Republicans are on TV.

Districts where the DCCC AND NRCC are on TV

There are a dozen districts that fit this category -- 11 are held by Democrats and one is currently in the GOP column.

The districts are: Michigan's 7th, Pennsylvania's 11th, Alabama's 2nd, Pennsylvania's 3rd, Missouri's 4th, Mississippi's 1st, South Carolina's 5th, Michigan's 1st, Wisconsin's 7th, Washington's 3rd and Illinois' 10th and Illinois's 14th.

Of the 12 seats on that list, four are held by Democratic freshmen, four are open seats and three are held by veteran Democrats, including committee chairmen in Spratt and Skelton.

A majority of the 12 seats -- seven -- were carried by President Obama in 2008.

What's perhaps more interesting is that most of those seats -- with the exceptions of perhaps Childers, Stupak and Baird -- are considered (or had been considered) second-tier GOP targets.

In fact, nine of the 11 Democratic districts in this category ranked lower than 30 on The Fix's recent list of the 50 races most likely to switch. That means the first real battlegrounds could well be the districts between 30-50 on the Line.

Districts where only DCCC is on TV

There are a dozen districts -- all but one of which is currently controlled by Democrats -- in this category: Arkansas' 1st, Arizona's 5th, Georgia's 2nd, Maryland's 1st, West Virginia's 1st, Ohio's 13th, North Carolina's 8th, Hawaii's 1st, Virginia's 2nd, Iowa's 3rd, New York's 24th and Ohio's 16th.

Just two of those districts ranked in the top 20 of The Fix's House Line while two others ranked in the top 30.

That means that most of the seats where Democrats have bought ad time are outside of the near-certain switches -- suggesting the party's strategy is, smartly, geared toward absorbing significant losses but avoiding losing the 39+ seats that would cost them the chamber.

Districts where only NRCC is on TV

There are a total of 19 districts where the Republican House campaign committee is on the air with no answer from the DCCC: Arizona's 1st, Tennessee's 8th, Virginia's 5th, Indiana's 2nd, Kentucky's 6th, Florida's 2nd, Virginia's 9th, Texas' 17th, Nevada's 3rd, Indiana's 9th, California's 11th, North Carolina's 7th, North Dakota at-large, Pennsylvania's 7th, New York's 20th, Pennsylvania's 8th, Illinois' 11th, New Jersey's 3rd and Georgia's 8th.

Only six of the districts on that list were in the top 30 on The Fix's list, and six of them didn't even make the top 50.

If Republicans can seriously compete in the six that didn't crack our top 50 -- Indiana's 2nd, Virginia's 9th, Kentucky's 6th, North Carolina's 7th, New York's 23rd and New Jersey's 3rd -- that shows that they are indeed stretching the map.

More likely, the NRCC wants to spend a bit of money in a few of these longer-shot districts to see if they can move the poll numbers in a significant enough way to justify future spending.

Remember that ad buys are made in various districts for various reasons. A committee might not feel the need to fund a given race because of the candidate's financial strength, the cheap nature of the district, or any number of other factors.

While ad buys are a very good indicator of where the most competitive races are, they aren't always foolproof, and shouldn't be seen as the end-all, be-all in determining the state of the play in the House.

At the moment, Democrats seem resigned to significant seat losses -- choosing to focus their money on three dozen or so races on which their control of the majority almost certainly rests.

By Aaron Blake  | September 29, 2010; 3:25 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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