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What you need to know about the NRCC and DCCC ad buys

By Aaron Blake

The National Republican Congressional Committee said Tuesday that it has plans to reserve ad time in 41 districts, including 40 districts currently held by Democrats.

For those keeping track, the GOP needs to win 39 Democratic seats to retake the majority.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has previously reserved ad time in 60 districts -- 90 percent of which are in districts controlled by their side.

Ad buys are a funny thing. The committees lay them down as markers, even though they aren't binding. The time can be canceled -- and the money returned -- up until almost the last minute before the ads run.

At the same time, most of the time reserved by the campaign committees will wind up being used and so these media buys are widely seen as offering big clues as to the races each side sees as their best opportunities/biggest vulnerabilities.

We crunched the numbers, compared the buys and came to the following conclusions:

1. DCCC buy much bigger; more to come from NRCC

The DCCC has twice as much money on hand ($34 million) as the NRCC ($17 million), so it has reserved time in many more seats: 60 for the DCCC versus 41 for the NRCC (Democratic Rep. John Adler's New Jersey district has been added to the initial list of 40 districts that were reported this morning).

But in addition to buying ads in more districts, the DCCC has also committed much more money to each district. It has designated $49 million for the 60 districts it has chosen -- drawing on money that it doesn't yet have in its coffers but likely will by the time the bills come due.

The GOP buy is less than half that, about $22 million, which should be close to the cash on hand figure the NRCC is expected to announce later this week. That means whatever money the committee can raise and whatever lines of credit it can draw from this point forward will go towards building on these buys and adding more districts.

All in all, the picture of which areas the DCCC is spending money is much more complete, while much of the NRCC's buying remains to-be-determined.

2. DCCC plays some offense, but NRCC plays almost no defense

Of the 60 districts Democrats have designated, they are going after six Republican-held seats, including those held by Reps. Joseph Cao (La.), Charles Djou (Hawaii) and Charlie Dent (Pa.) and open seats of outgoing Reps. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Mike Castle (Del.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (Fla.), who is running for election in a neighboring district.

Republicans, meanwhile, have bought time in only one of those -- Kirk's 10th district in which President Obama won 61 percent of the vote in 2008.

Cao's and Castle's heavily Democratic seats will be very tough to hold, and the NRCC needs to determine whether they are worth the investment. (Both potential Republican candidates in Delaware are independently wealthy so it's hard to imagine the NRCC spending money there.) Djou won his May special election without any money from the national party and has been significantly outraising state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa since then, but he also may need some help in November, which unlike the special, will be a head to head matchup against Hanabusa.

The seats of Dent and Diaz-Balart are lower-tier targets than the other four, and Republicans feel good about their chances in both. Democrats remain convinced that they have star candidates in each seat that can make the races quite competitive.

3. Where they're not buying

Oftentimes, the districts that are left off of national media buys by the campaign committees are more instructive than the ones that are included.

The NRCC is reserving ad time in five districts the DCCC hasn't touched -- going after Adler and Reps. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) and Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.).

Grayson is a top GOP target, but the DCCC might not feel the need to spend money since the liberal firebrand has raised tons of it off his national profile and has personal wealth to bear on the race too.

Out of the other three, the most surprising is Marshall, who wasn't targeted until recently. A poll out today shows state Rep. Austin Scott (R) within five points and President Obama lost the Macon-area seat by 13 points in 2008.

Notable omissions from the NRCC buy include seats held by Reps. Bill Foster (D-Ill.), Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) and the open seat of Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), who is running for Senate. All three districts are considered toss-ups but are covered by expensive media markets, and the NRCC's penny-pinching ways mean they will have to wait.

The NRCC also isn't reserving time in districts featuring top "Young Guns" recruits like former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Klein challenger Allen West, Virginia candidates Morgan Griffith (in the 9th) and Keith Fimian (in the 11th) and Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.) challenger Nan Hayworth. These would seem to be top potential add-ons for the next round of ad buys.

The DCCC has reserved time in 24 districts that aren't on the NRCC's new list, including the Foster, Kissell and Hodes seats. Others include the 1st, 5th and 8th in Arizona and three districts in Pennsylvania, along with a very tough hold in Arkansas's open 2nd district.

That Arkansas seat is a considered a likely GOP pickup as are a few districts where neither committee has bothered to reserve ad time. Neither the NRCC nor the DCCC has put money into the open seats of Senate candidate Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), former Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) or outgoing Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.). That's a strong signal they will flip to Republicans.

The toughest decision the campaign committees in the House and Senate will make over the final two and half months of the 2010 election are when to pull out advertising from districts or states that no longer look winnable. Such a move is the equivalent of allowing a candidate to wither on the vine -- without the critical air cover necessary to beat back attacks.

We'll be waiting -- and watching.

By Aaron Blake  |  August 17, 2010; 5:00 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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