House Republicans’ main super PAC is booking $125 million in TV ad reservations in roughly 50 media markets across the country — a massive down payment on the party’s bid to wrest back the majority this fall.
This is the first of several rounds of fall TV and digital bookings for the Congressional Leadership Fund, the largest outside group spending in House races and one that is closely affiliated with Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But this initial purchase is already more than the super PAC spent on those ads during the entire 2020 election cycle, according to buys shared first with POLITICO.
And the group is devoting the vast majority of its investment to ousting Democrats rather than bolstering Republican incumbents, an indication of just how strong the political environment has turned toward the GOP.
“Our buy is overwhelmingly on offense,” said CLF President Dan Conston, noting that $111 million of the ad reservations are earmarked for flipping Democratic-held seats.
And, he added, there’s more to come: “It’s a baseline, and we’re going to keep spending from here.”
Even as redistricting shrunk the number of competitive House districts, Republicans crowed about creating an expansive offensive battlefield in 2022 by contesting traditionally strong Democratic seats where President Joe Biden’s sagging approval rating was bringing new territory into play. Now, the ad reservations suggest CLF is willing to put millions of dollars behind that claim.
Its reservations will target several Democrats in seats that Biden carried by double digits in 2020, including Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.) and an open seat in the northern region of California’s Central Valley that Rep. Josh Harder (D-Calif.) vacated to run elsewhere.
But at the core of the map — where CLF placed some of its most lengthy and substantial buys — are districts that the president carried by 6 to 9 points. That includes the seats held by Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and the seat in northwest Illinois left open by retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos.
“In the decisive blockbuster races, we’re laying down a marker that says we’re in for the duration and we’re in with big figures,” Conston said.
House Majority PAC, Democrats’ main congressional super PAC, placed its own ad buys in late March, booking nearly $102 million across about 50 markets — double the Democratic group’s initial reservation in 2020.
The group’s executive director, Abby Curran Horrell, said at the time that the buys showed House Majority PAC was doing “whatever it takes to protect and secure a Democratic House majority in 2022.”
Yet the Democratic bookings also reflected a political environment that’s endangering many longtime Democratic seats that would not be competitive in a typical election year. Those districts include Cuellar’s in Texas, Rep. Sanford Bishop’s in Georgia and an eastern North Carolina seat left open by retiring Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield.
Some of CLF’s biggest reservations come in the most crowded media markets of the midterms, including $15 million in Las Vegas, which is home to three vulnerable Democratic incumbents as well as a Senate and governor’s race; $8.1 million in Phoenix, which covers seats held by Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran and Greg Stanton and GOP Rep. David Schweikert; and $7.3 million in Philadelphia, where Republicans will be targeting Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) and protecting Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).
In other large markets, House Republicans have given themselves flexibility. In Denver, CLF’s $4.4 million reservation could go toward flipping a newly created district or the one vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter. In Detroit, a $4 million buy can put pressure on Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, as well as help flip an open seat where star GOP recruit John James is running.
And as part of Republicans’ push to win over Latino voters who have been gravitating toward the GOP in recent years, CLF will invest some $6 million in San Antonio, Laredo and Brownsville. Those media markets that span three seats in South Texas, including Cuellar’s and an open seat long held by Democrats that the GOP redistricted into a prime pickup opportunity.
CLF’s reservations this month will also zero in on some of the GOP’s top 2022 targets, including four Democrats representing districts former President Donald Trump carried in 2020: Reps. Cindy Axne of Iowa, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Jared Golden of Maine. The group has also earmarked $2.5 million for Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and $2.3 million for Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.).
In a sign of confidence about their ability to flip the Trump-won seat currently held by retiring Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, CLF booked just $723,000 across two Wisconsin markets there.
The group notably declined to reserve time in two open Florida seats held by outgoing Reps. Charlie Crist or Stephanie Murphy, districts that have become more favorable to Republicans after redistricting. Republicans also aren’t directing resources early to two Iowa seats held by GOP Reps. Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks that are typically hotly contested every two years.
In an interview, Conston said the only defensive ad reservations CLF placed were to defend the roughly 10 Republicans currently in seats that Biden carried in 2020, a situation many found themselves in after redistricting.
That includes a large sum in California for Reps. David Valadao, Young Kim, Mike Garcia and Michelle Steel; $2.2 million to defend Rep. Peter Meijer in Michigan; $1.3 million each for Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio and Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska; and up to $1.6 million for GOP Rep. Yvette Herrell in New Mexico.
CLF intended to book $2.3 million on cable in New York City to aid GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, but it pulled back after the state’s high court on Wednesday struck down a map that would have transformed her district into one Biden won by double digits. It set that money aside in case she needs it under the new map. However it did keep intact buys meant to target Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) and Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the current chair of House Democrats’ campaign arm.
The ad buy reflects booming fundraising for House Republicans’ outside groups. CLF and its sister nonprofit American Action Network have always been adept at raising big money, but Conston said donors have shown even greater interest this election with the majority appearing within reach. (The PAC ended March with $93 million banked, which is three times as much money as it had on hand at this point in 2020.)
Conston said that Democrats’ reservations only reinforce his optimism.
“I think they believe they’ve already lost the majority,” Conston said. “They likely see the same numbers we do that show their incumbents are far more vulnerable than they care to admit and that the president is an anchor for them.”