Video

Which House Races Are the Parties Targeting? Look to the Money, the TV Ad Money

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, an authoritative look at where things stand for 2018

While both parties may talk a big game in terms of their targeted House races, our Roll Call elections analyst has one thing to say: Show me the money. Gonzales breaks down the various campaign groups that are making pricey ad reservations in some media markets and not others, which can provide insight about the seats the parties really see as most flippable.

Below is a transcript of the video.

Nathan L. Gonzales:

With six months to go before Election Day, we’re finally moving from the hypothetical to reality.

For most of the cycle, both parties can claim to be targeting dozens and dozens of House races. They’ve even got clever names for their targeting programs: Red to Blue, Green to Purple, Young Guns, Middle-Aged Guns. I don’t know. They all start to sound the same.

Strategists are good at making every district seem like a top priority, when there is no promise of future resources or attention. But one of the best ways to identify each party’s true targets is to watch the money. 

For example, Republicans say they are targeting 36 districts around the country. But looking at their initial television ad reservations — or where they plan to spend money this fall — the list of takeover targets is closer to four or five.

We don’t know for sure because groups don’t have to specify which race they are planning ads for in a particular media market, and a media market can cover multiple districts. But we can make some assumptions based on what we know about the races.

It’s also important to remember that these are just initial ad reservations. Congressional Leadership Fund, the NRCC, and other groups will place millions of dollars more in TV advertising before these elections are over — adding and subtracting to the places where they are targeting or defending.

Democrats have an ambitious list of more than 100 takeover opportunities. Based on the initial ad reservations from House Majority PAC, the go-to Democratic outside group for House races, that target list is closer to 30.

Once again, this comes with a couple of caveats. Because there can be multiple competitive districts in one media market, it’s hard to know exactly what the race the money is earmarked for. For example, Democrats have multiple opportunities in the L.A., Detroit and Chicago media markets.

Of course, HMP will add more money and targets in the weeks and months ahead. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to place their initial ad reservations.

Outside groups and parties place initial ad reservations for multiple reasons.

It’s a way to lock in a better rate: Pay less now before the rates go up. It’s a way to make sure you have space, particularly in states with competitive statewide races happening simultaneously. In some places, the airwaves will get very crowded and very expensive. And it’s way to communicate with your allies without illegally coordinating, and avoid redundancy and waste when spending on races.   

For example, in mid-April, the Republican-aligned CLF announced $38 million in TV ad reservations, including $2.3 million in the Denver media market to defend Republican incumbent Mike Coffman.

More specifically, CLF reserved ads in Weeks 4 through 9, from Labor Day to mid-October. Remember, strategists count weeks backwards from Election Day. 

When the NRCC announced its initial ad reservations a couple weeks later, it included $1.8 million in the Denver market, covering Weeks 1 through 4. That means, between the two groups, Coffman should have reinforcements on the airwaves for the final two months of the campaign.

In total, Democrats and Republicans have reserved more than $124 million in television advertising for House races between Labor Day and Election Day. And that’s only a slice of the spending we’ll see before this is over.

But just remember, when you hear a party say they are targeting the race, just ask one question: Show me the money?