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Eyeing House majority, top Republican super PAC books $43 million in fall ads

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to the media after a March 22 meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to the media after a March 22 meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Mary Calvert/Reuters)
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The largest Republican super PAC focused on House races has reserved $43 million in advertising this fall, sketching out the GOP’s path for retaking the majority two years after a Democratic wave swept them from power.

The spending plan from the Congressional Leadership Fund targets about 30 Democratic incumbents in a cycle in which Republicans will need to flip 18 seats to win back the speaker’s gavel. The group, which has close ties to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and other Republican leaders, is also moving to protect as many as six vulnerable GOP members.

Among the group’s most prominent targets are Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Tex.), a freshman in a Houston-area district where the super PAC is planning to spend $3.1 million, and Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), whose Upstate New York district is targeted for $2.2 million of fall spending.

The group is also making multimillion-dollar reservations in Philadelphia, where $6.5 million in spending could target Democratic Reps. Andy Kim (N.J.) and Susan Wild (Pa.) and protect Republican Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.), as well as in Minneapolis, where $3.3 million could be spent against Minnesota Democratic Reps. Angie Craig, Collin C. Peterson and Dean Phillips.

In the Los Angeles market, $3 million is earmarked to target California Democrats Gil Cisneros, Katie Porter and Harley Rouda, and in Atlanta, $3.2 million is reserved to oust Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) and protect the seat being vacated by Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.).

“These reservations very much lay out the building blocks to winning back the majority,” Congressional Leadership Fund President Dan Conston said. “We’re making big commitments in important, expensive districts and laying out a clear path that will position us to win back the majority.”

Republicans face multiple challenges in their bid to reclaim the House majority. The vulnerable Democrats on the GOP target list have furiously raised money, ensuring they have the resources to counter Republican criticism. The GOP also will be defending more open seats, as 28 incumbents have decided not to seek reelection, compared with nine Democrats.

Tracking House retirements from the 116th Congress

The CLF’s Democratic rival, the House Majority PAC, on Monday announced $51 million in initial reservations — many of them in the same media markets as the GOP group’s. Both groups, as well as other outside groups planning spending in House and Senate races, are seeking to make early reservations in presidential battlegrounds and states with key Senate races where network advertising inventory is likely to be scarce this fall.

Conston said the size of the initial reservation relative to the Democratic group’s should not be interpreted as a sign the GOP will ultimately be outspent. As with any political advertising reservation, early bookings are subject to expansion or cancellation.

“I would very much look at this as an initial reserve, and additional reserves are coming,” Conston said.

The races focused on in the CLF’s initial ad reservations include top targets where Republicans have recruited star candidates — such as the Houston race, where GOP strategists are bullish on former Army officer Wesley Hunt — and places where President Trump is expected to win handily — such as Brindisi’s district, which Trump won by 15 points in 2016.

Freshman Democrats keep the ‘green wave’ rolling for reelection bids next year

Other early reservations — such as those in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and Detroit, where the GOP is targeting Democratic Reps. Haley Stevens and Elissa Slotkin — are driven by the market pressures in presidential battleground states.

Two major reservations straddle both categories: $3.9 million in combined Iowa spending targeting three seats currently held by Democrats, and a $1.9 million reservation targeting freshman Rep. Jared Golden in Maine, where advertising inventory is already being gobbled up by a competitive Senate race.

Other million-dollar-plus reservations target Democratic Reps. TJ Cox (Calif.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.), Kendra Horn (Okla.), Elaine Luria (Va.), Tom Malinowski (N.J.), Max Rose (N.Y.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.). Six-figure reservations are aimed at Reps. Susie Lee (Nev.) and Ben McAdams (Utah).

Besides Republicans Fitzpatrick and Van Drew, the CLF is planning to spend six-figure sums to protect GOP Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.), Rodney Davis (Ill.), John Katko (N.Y.) and Scott Perry (Pa.).

A big unknown for both parties now is exactly what messages they will be driving during all of this ad time in September and October with so much of the political landscape upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

So far this cycle, Republicans have stuck closely to painting Democrats as socialist extremists. But with Congress already having passed more than $2 trillion in federal rescue spending in recent weeks, and trillions more likely to come, that small-government message may no longer resonate.

Trump’s $1 trillion stimulus is a gamble for reelection — and a sea change for Republicans once opposed to bailouts

Conston said it was “a little too early to tell” how Republican messaging might evolve, but he said the coronavirus response of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and her Democratic majority could very well provide fodder for Republican candidates.

“I think that, in a time of real need, if we can put forward an argument that she’s playing games, that may actually have some vitality,” he said, adding, “I think we can make an argument that we’re better economic stewards and, more importantly, that they’re bad economic stewards.”

Announcing her group’s reservations Monday, House Majority PAC Executive Director Abby Curran Horrell said in a statement that it was “more important than ever to keep the Democratic House Majority.”

House Majority PAC is exceeding the Congressional Leadership Fund’s reservations in key markets such as Minneapolis, Atlanta and Detroit, while also entering media markets where the CLF is not currently reserving — such as San Antonio, where Democrats are eyeing Texas seats now held by GOP Reps. Will Hurd and Chip Roy, and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where Democrats are hoping to protect Rep. Matthew Cartwright in a district Trump won in 2016.

“The 2020 election will be unlike any before it, presenting unique challenges and circumstances that make it even more important for our organization to take early steps that enable us to protect and expand the House Majority,” Horrell said.

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