Advertising 'triage' at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee

Watching political organizations for “tells” that betray what they really think about upcoming races, even as they loudly declare their intention to win every last one of ’em, is part of the summer and fall fun for political wonks.  One of the most reliable indicators of what’s really going through the minds of politicians and their supporters is the way they move advertising money around.  Roll Call reports the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already begun moving money out of some races it’s giving up on, a process known as “triage,” because it is hoped pulling the plug on lost causes will free up money that can be more effectively spent in livelier races:

For now, House Democrats are only canceling airtime reservations in open-seat races or offensive opportunities. In some cases, the DCCC is still airing advertisements in some of the affected races for the next couple weeks.

In addition to the cancellations, the DCCC is also moving money to other districts, including other open-seat opportunities, districts held by Democrats, and one GOP incumbent target.

House Democrats must net 17 seats to win the majority, but it???s more likely they will lose seats in November. These cuts allow the DCCC to use their resources in other reasons where the party has a higher likelihood of winning.

The list of advertising cancellations includes:

  • California???s 3rd and 10th Districts: This now-canceled reservation for the second-to-last week of the campaign was initially intended as airtime to protect Democratic Rep. John Garamendi and target Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.
  • California???s 21st District: The DCCC pulled back reservations for the final two weeks of the campaign in their bid to unseat Republican Rep. David Valadao. His challenger, Democrat Amanda Renteria, will almost certainly be recruited by Democrats to run again in 2016 if she comes up short in November.
  • Iowa???s 4th District: The House Democratic political arm is pulling a Sioux City broadcast buy against Republican Rep. Steve King for the last two weeks of the campaign.
  • Illinois??? 13th District: The DCCC is cutting a second-to-last-week of the cycle in a St. Louis broadcast buy initially intended to target Republican Rep. Rodney Davis.
  • Michigan???s 7th, 8th, 11th Districts: The committee is cutting a Detroit broadcast reservation in the second-to-last week of the campaign. They had hoped to target three Republican-held seats in the area.
  • New York???s 21st District: The DCCC is canceling its last two weeks of airtime in its bid to hold onto Rep. Bill Owens??? seat in Upstate New York.
  • New York???s 23rd District: House Democrats are canceling reservations for the campaign???s last two weeks in their effort to oust Republican Rep. Tom Reed.
  • Pennsylvania???s 6th and 8th Districts: The DCCC is scaling back its buy to target retiring Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach???s seat and oust Republican Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick.

The incumbent Republican they’re evidently hoping to take out is Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska.  Republicans, meanwhile, reserved much less advertising at the outset, and are adding more without cancelling anything, which is less an indication of how they see the 2014 races than the GOP following their usual campaign strategy: “The NRCC and GOP outside groups tend to reserve late and pay a premium for ad rates. In this effort, they preserve the element of surprise and avoid the frequent cancelation headlines that House Democrats earn.”  Presumably Republican strategists feel this element of surprise is worth paying extra for advertising time, while Democrats find the lower prices from early reservations more desirable.

In this particular cycle, the Senate battleground is much more exciting than the House.  There, the New York Times notes that Democrats have “rapidly narrowed the traditional financial gap with Republican groups” in the kind of outside political spending Democrats spend a great deal of time complaining about, having built “a smaller but more tightly knit alliance of groups that share donors, closely coordinate their advertising and hit harder than their conservative counterparts.”  It looks like some of that outside financial support for Senate races is coming at the expense of Democrat House candidates, who are none too happy about it.  Triage isn’t much fun for those judged to be lost causes.