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House Democrats plot 2012 playing field

at 02:03 PM ET, 04/19/2012

The map on which the battle for the House will be fought this fall came into better focus this week with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announcing that it is reserving $32 million worth of ad time in media markets spanning nearly three dozen competitive districts.

While reserving ad time doesn’t lock the committee into actually buying time, it does provide a good window into the Democrats’ early strategy for trying to take back the House — particularly as it related to which districts they see as crucial and/or close.

Democrats need to gain 25 seats in order to regain the majority, so if they’ve got a shot at it, this is likely just a precursor to a much larger ad buy that spans many more districts. And, most of the current ad reservations are focused on media markets that will likely be important to the presidential race. In markets where it’s unlikely the presidential campaigns will buy time, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to buy ad space later this year.

Don’t want to comb through the entirety of the Democratic ad buy? No problem. We did it for you. What you need to know is below.

The basics

The DCCC reservations are mostly playing offense — as one would expect with Republicans having their biggest House majority in 60 years.

The ad buy spans 23 different media markets, but many of those markets include multiple potentially competitive districts. Therefore the DCCC can reserve time in a market (Philadelphia, for example) and then tailor it to whichever race in that market is the most important when it actually comes time to air the ads — likely not until the fall.

In those 23 markets, there are 24 competitive seats held by a Republican, six held by a Democrat and four that are either merged districts (a GOP incumbent vs. a Democratic incumbent) or new open seats created by redistricting.

Where they didn’t buy

With the above in mind, it’s worth looking at the districts where the DCCC didn’t reserve time.

Democrats didn’t reserve time in several districts they will be hard-pressed to defend, including open seats held by outgoing Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Dan Boren (D-Okla.), Mike Ross (D-Ark.), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Brad Miller (D-N.C.). They also haven’t reserved time for Rep. John Barrow’s (D-Ga.) eastern Georgia district or Rep. Kathy Hochul’s (D-N.Y.) western New York district. All seven of these seats were either conservative to begin with and/or got much more GOP-friendly after redistricting.

House Democrats also didn’t reserve time in a few districts where they are favored to win, including seats held by GOP Reps. Joe Walsh and Robert Dold in the Chicago suburbs, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.). All four of those districts got more Democratic due to redistricting and will be tough for the GOP to hold.

Other notable exclusions include Rep. Jim Matheson’s (D-Utah) seat and a bunch of seats in California and the New York media markets. The committee also isn’t reserving time in Rep. David Cicilline’s (D-R.I.) district, where polling has shown the embattled incumbent down by double digits but the electorate is very blue.

The common thread between all of the California, New York, Utah and Rhode Island seats is that they all are covered by media markets that won’t be busy in the presidential race. Not buying now doesn’t mean the DCCC has given up or is supremely confident in the outcome in these districts.

Keep an eye on the districts above in future ad reservations, though, and if they continue to be excluded, it may be because they are going to flip control, and there’s nothing either side can do about it.

The surprises

Some of the districts where the DCCC reserved time seem like outliers at first glance.

One is Rep. Scott Rigell’s (R-Va.) district, which leans significantly Republican and is rated as “likely Republican” by the Cook Political Report.

The same goes for Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), who isn’t thought to be among the most vulnerable Republicans.

And then there’s the DCCC’s $2.5 million (!) reservation in the Tampa media market, which could target either Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) or Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.). Young’s seat isn’t gettable unless he retires (maybe the reservation is a not-so-subtle nudge in that direction), and Buchanan isn’t considered among the most vulnerable Republicans, but he is the subject of an ethics probe.

If Democrats can put these seats in play, they will likely be playing for the majority.

 
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