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House playing field grows to 71 seats

By Aaron Blake

The playing field is getting wider by the day in the battle for the House.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent about $7 million in more than three dozen districts this week, catching up to the National Republican Congressional Committee in the total amount of money spent on ads thus far.

With both sides fully engaged in the district-by-district television battle, it's become clear that we are dealing with a very large House playing field.

Either the NRCC or DCCC is spending money in 61 different districts, and 10 of the most vulnerable districts have yet to see a dime from the committees -- mostly because they are being written off as certain party switches.

That means roughly 71 seats are in play. Of those 71 seats, just five are held by Republicans, and 66 are potential GOP pickups. Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats to retake the majority.

Let's look at the most recent buys for the DCCC and what it tells us about their view of the House playing field.

According to independent expenditure reports filed Tuesday and Wednesday, the DCCC is spending its first money on several of its most vulnerable seats, including those held by Reps. Tom Perriello (D-Va.), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), Baron Hill (D-Ind.), Harry Teague (D-N.M.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and an open seat in New Hampshire's 2nd district. Democrats have polled behind in all seven of those races.

The DCCC had previously reserved ad time in each district, but the fact that it is spending money signifies that it believes there is indeed some hope left.

Oftentimes, committees will put some money in a tough district to see if they can improve their numbers there in the short term. Depending on how that experiment turns out, they can either stay on the air or cancel future reservations.

Beyond the most vulnerable members getting DCCC ad infusions, the committee also added some other, previously low-level districts targeted by the GOP, to its buy including Reps. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Zack Space (D-Ohio) and John Salazar (D-Colo.).

Thus far, Democrats are focusing more of their early buys on low-level targets than Republicans. Of the 25 races most likely to switch parties in The Fix's last House line, Republicans have spent money in 12 of those districts, while Democrats have spent money in nine. Meanwhile, of the districts that didn't make The Fix's Top 50 last month, Democrats are spending money in 15 of them, while Republicans are spending in 11.

But that doesn't mean Democrats are letting their most vulnerable members go without a fight. The committee has now spent big money on several of them -- $443,000 on Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.), $265,000 on Teague, $368,000 on Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.) and $288,000 on Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.).

By the same token, the committee has reduced some of its reserved ad time in districts held by Reps. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.), Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.), Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) and Betsy Markey (D-Colo.), as well as open seats being left by Reps. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) and Dennis Moore (D-Kan.). Some of those districts might well be lost causes at this point, and it will be interesting to see if the DCCC spends any money on them.

Democrats also can basically write off open seats in Tennessee's 6th district, Louisiana's 3rd, and New York's 29th district, as well. The DCCC has reserved ad time in Arkansas's 2nd district, but it has yet to spend money there, and Republicans are virtually guaranteed a win.

The picture for the DCCC this week is much fuller than it was last week. After spending its first $3.7 million on largely mid-level districts (check out last week's recap here), the committee spent twice as much this week.

The surge in spending means both the DCCC and the NRCC are now in about the same number of districts (43 for DCCC and 46 for NRCC) and are spending roughly the same amount of money ($11 million). That fact that will change quickly, though, as new ad buys are filed with the Federal Election Commission frequently.

We'll keep you updated.

By Aaron Blake  | October 7, 2010; 4:15 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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