The Spending Clues

By Jim Ellis

nrcc-dcccSept. 28, 2018 — The old saying, “put your money where your mouth is,” certainly applies to campaign politics, and we have new evidence of that. Currently, there is much conjecture and banter about which candidates are going to win various House races, including media prognosticators making predictions about how the Nov. 6 election will unfold, but a better clue as to what the party leaders actually believe can be found in their spending reports.

Looking at the most recent independent expenditures from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) tells us which races the party leadership believes are their top current priorities. For a full report on all recent expenditures, check the Daily Kos Elections blog, Daily-Kos-Elections-Live-Digest-9-26.

Though the latest expenditure reports tell us which are the hot, undecided races, they don’t provide the entire picture. Media market size and previous expenditure amounts also must be considered, particularly the former. For example, a $378,000 DCCC media buy in the 2nd District of Kansas is major, whereas spending $375,000 in Nevada’s 3rd District wholly contained in the expensive Las Vegas market isn’t nearly as large even though the dollar amounts are equivalent.

That being the said, the districts where the DCCC is spending more than $500,000 in current expenditures are:
• VA-10: Against Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-McLean) – $567,000
• MN-1: Open seat defense district – $539,000
• WA-8: Open seat conversion opportunity – $518,000
• NV-4: Open seat defense district – $508,000
• MN-8: Open seat defense district – $500,000

The NRCC is spending similar amounts but not as much in:
• WA-8: $484,000
• FL-26: Protecting Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami) – $435,000
• VA-10: $422,000

Obviously, the VA-10 and WA-8 races are very hot because both districts are at the top of each party’s expenditure lists.

Virginia’s Barbara Comstock was viewed as being highly vulnerable immediately after the June Democratic primary. President Trump fares poorly here (lost it by 10 percentage points in 2016), and his approval numbers continue to lag. The heavy percentage of government employees and contractors living in the Northern Virginia suburbs also gives Democrats an apparent favorable constituency.

Earlier, the race was being rated as “Lean Democratic,” an unusual occurrence for a seat carrying a Republican incumbent. And, rumors were abounding that the NRCC was going to cut its expenditures here. But, such is obviously not the case. Rep. Comstock has come roaring back with an aggressive campaign, and it is clear that both major party entities believe that this seat is now squarely back in the toss-up category. The Democratic candidate is state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudon County).

The Democrats are now scrambling in the open WA-8 district after the NRCC launched a devastating ad against Dr. Kim Shrier (D). The Republican is former state senator and statewide nominee Dino Rossi, and the two are battling for the GOP district from which Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Auburn) is retiring.

Dr. Shrier, a pediatrician, began running a campaign ad talking about need to expand Medicaid coverage to protect children. But the NRCC countered with footage from Shrier’s own ad on the topic and illustrated that the Doctor’s own practice refuses to accept Medicaid patients. This is a swing district that leans Republican but was viewed as a strong conversion opportunity particularly after GOP performance did not meet expectations in the Aug. 7 jungle primary. It is clear both parties now believe this campaign is one of the hottest in the country.

The other DCCC expenditures are attempting to blunt Republican advances in vulnerable open seats. The conventional wisdom has always stated that the two Democratic open seats in Minnesota are their most vulnerable, a supposition that the latest spending reports verify. Losing any current Democratic seat could well cost the party its shot a taking the majority, so extra attention must be paid to keeping every current seat. This is especially true for the two Minnesota seats that were both decided by less than one percentage point in 2016.

Freshman Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-Las Vegas) is retiring because of sexual impropriety accusations, but the media prognosticators have rated it as “Likely Democratic.” This is a curious rating because the 2018 campaign is a re-match between two former members, Steven Horsford (D) and Cresent Hardy (R). In 2014, Hardy unseated then-Rep. Horsford, which seems to be discounted, but now the expenditure report apparently verifies GOP claims that this campaign is actually in the “toss-up” range.

Rep. Curbelo did not fare well in the court-ordered 2015 redistricting plan, but still won a 12 percentage point re-election victory in 2016. The fact that this campaign is in the NRCC’s top three in expenditures tell us that protecting him in what could well be an adverse year for them remains a top priority.

Naturally, other factors exist in targeting, not the least of which is where other outside entities like the House Majority PAC (D) and Congressional Leadership Fund (R) are spending their money. But these latest expenditure reports do pretty clearly highlight which races are the current party priorities.

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