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GOP keeps emphasis on districts won by McCain in 2008

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By Aaron Blake

Two weeks before the election, Republicans are choosing their battles on mostly friendly turf, spending heavily in districts won by Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential race.

Despite a widening playing field, most of the National Republican Congressional Committee's targets remain in districts that went for the Arizona Republican and, often, even more strongly for President Bush in 2004.

Of the 60 Democratic districts where the NRCC has spread around its $30 million in ad buys, 33 are districts McCain won, while 27 were won by President Obama. When you include four districts where the NRCC is such a heavy favorite that it hasn't had to spend money, that means the party is pursuing 37 of a possible 48 seats that were won by both McCain and currently represented by a Democratic congressman -- also known as "McCain-Democrat" seats.

In a 38th McCain-Democrat district -- held by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) -- national Democrats just spent their first money, but Republicans haven't joined the fray yet.

The only McCain-Democrat districts that the NRCC isn't spending in are those held by Shuler and Reps. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.), Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Tim Holden (D-Pa.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.). The GOP holds some hope in some of these districts (expense may prohibit investing in districts like Altmire's and McMahon's), but many of them are lower-tier targets without big-name recruits that will likely only flip in an absolute bloodbath.

The NRCC is effectively trying to ensure victory in the most vulnerable Democratic districts while also playing in plenty of districts won by Obama. Indeed, they could conceivably win a majority just by winning McCain-Democrat districts.

They think by bringing an aggressive approach early in districts where the demographics are friendly, they have begun to push the Democrats to retrench in districts that are more Democratic-leaning.

There is some evidence that the strategy has worked. This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched its first ad buys in four districts that went at lead 57 percent for Obama two years ago: Reps. David Loebsack (D-Iowa), Raul Grijavla (D-Ariz.), Jim Costa (D-Calif.) and Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.).

Republicans have not spent money in those districts so far. In fact, they have only spent money in two Democratic districts that went for Obama by 57 percent or more whereas Democrats have spent money in eight such districts.

Thus far, Democrats are actually spending most of their money in Obama districts. They have bought ad time in 61 Democratics districts -- 32 that went for Obama and 29 that went for McCain.

While Republicans have spent $5 million more in McCain districts ($18.7 million to $13.3 million), Democrats have spent nearly $2 million more in Obama districts ($18.7 million to $16.8 million).

(For a breakdown of where the committees and all outside groups are spending money, be sure to check out the Post's third-party spending tracker here.)

There are a few potential reasons for that disparity.

One is a firewall strategy. Democrats are doing whatever they can to keep their losses to less than 39 seats in order to keep the majority. That means they are willing to accept losses in certain districts in order to keep those majority-making seats. And if they're focusing on the 39th seat (so to speak), that seat is likely an Obama district.

Another potential reason is caucus politics; longtime Democratic incumbents seeking help in their first tough races in years tend to come from Obama districts and might have more clout with the Democratic leadership.

A third reason may be that Democrats in those most vulnerable districts often hold massive financial advantages that the DCCC doesn't feel it needs to supplement.

Regardless of the reason, the ad spending reveals that Democrats are spending more money on the second and third tier seats they currently control while the GOP is still spending heavily in the most vulnerable Democratic districts. Of the top 25 races on The Fix's recent House Line, Republicans have spent $7.6 million in a total of 15 of them, while Democrats have spent $4.7 million on 11 of them.

Many of those districts are held by Democrats who outperformed President Obama in 2008 by a considerable margin. If Democrats have any chance of staying in the majority in two weeks, those members will have to overperform Democratic performance in those districts again -- albeit it in a much tougher environment.

By Aaron Blake  | October 20, 2010; 2:57 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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