House Republicans’ chief super PAC is laying down $18 million in a new wave of ad reservations that ups the pressure on some top Democratic targets but also prepares for an unfavorable political environment by placing buys in deep-red seats.
The new reservations from Congressional Leadership Fund are spread out over roughly 25 districts and bring its total spending for the cycle to nearly $110 million, according to plans shared first with POLITICO. The largest of the reservations will pummel freshman Democrats in Trump-friendly areas — but the group is also making sizable investments in GOP-held districts on the fringes of the House map in Arkansas, Alaska, central Virginia and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows’ old seat in western North Carolina.
Operatives for the group described those buys, which include broadcast, cable, radio and digital, as a backstop to prevent any surprises on Election Day — but they are also a sign that the GOP is playing more defense than it expected to at the start of the cycle.
“CLF is doubling down and pressing even deeper into our top offensive opportunities, reinforcing our swing-seat incumbents and providing a small insurance policy in a few seats to ensure a win this November,” CLF President Dan Conston said in a statement.
Notable new reservations include $865,000 to boost Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska); $500,000 to help Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), $500,000 for Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), $750,000 for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), $740,000 for Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and $750,000 for an open seat in central Virginia where Rep. Denver Riggleman (R-Va.) lost renomination in a district convention.
CLF also reserved $850,000 in Meadows’ former district, where the Republican nominee is 25-year-old businessman Madison Cawthorn. Court-ordered redistricting last year made the seat more favorable to Democrats by uniting the liberal enclave of Asheville, but President Donald Trump still carried it by 17 points.
Reps. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), Kendra Horn (D-Okla.) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) are each getting over a million in new ad reservations against them from the group — a sign that Republicans are still pushing to pick off incumbents. The group is also making large six-figure buys against Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). And earlier this week it laid down a new offensive target with a $2 million ad buy against Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.).
The vast majority of CLF’s total spending for the cycle is on offensive targets, and Republicans feel confident they will make gains in November, particularly if Trump tightens the presidential race. Democrats are defending 30 districts that the president carried in 2016.
But most of the districts in this new wave of reservations are Republican-held. CLF is increasing its buys to help Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn.) and Don Bacon (R-Neb.) — and in open seats on Long Island and in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Houston and Dallas.
Democrats, meanwhile, are scaling back their defensive buys and shifting resources away from once-vulnerable incumbents. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this week scrapped four TV flights set to run from early-to-mid October in districts held by Reps. Jared Golden (D-Maine), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) and Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) — a show of confidence in their reelection prospects. All four hold seats won by Trump in 2016.
Republicans are hampered by the cash advantage of Democratic candidates and by their large number of open seats. Members like Hill and Young were outraised by their opponents last quarter — and Young trails in cash on hand. And retirements by longtime incumbents in Indiana, New York and Texas deprived the GOP of the war chests they amassed over the years.