By LAURA MECKLER And JANET HOOK
Democratic strategists acknowledged they are abandoning a dozen House seats the party now holds, as they try to salvage their majority in the chamber by shoring up candidates with better chances.
With Republicans expanding their advertising to broaden the field of competitive races, Democrats are shifting resources to help such senior lawmakers as House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D., S.C.), and to head off Republicans in usually safe Massachusetts, where a southeast district that includes Cape Cod is competitive for the first time in decades. The emerging battlefield, two weeks before Election Day, is almost entirely in districts now held by Democrats. It includes about 40 districts where both the Republican and Democratic House campaign arms are running television ads or have reserved TV time.
Beyond those, Republicans are on the air in a dozen additional districts, while Democrats are running ads in two. Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats to win a majority in the House.
“The field is essentially expanding by the day,” said Ken Spain, spokesman for the GOP’s House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee.
A survey of voters in competitive House districts released Friday reinforced the point that Democrats face a tough road. The poll, for National Public Radio, found that in 58 Democratic-held battleground districts, 47% of likely voters preferred the Republican for Congress in their district, while 44% preferred the Democrat, a three percentage-point gap. The Republican lead was larger among voters with high levels of interest in the election. The GOP edge had been eight points in June.
New fund-raising numbers for the July-to-September period, due to federal officials at midnight Friday, could set the stage for the final dash to the Nov. 2 election.
The Democrats’ House committee on Friday reported $41.6 million in the bank, more than twice that of its GOP counterpart. Spending by non-party groups, such as labor unions and independent organizations, are backing up many candidates whose own bank accounts have run low.
Meanwhile, in the tight Nevada Senate race, GOP challenger Sharron Angle raised $12 million more than Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid in the third quarter.
The retrenching now under way happens in every election and is typically painful for the party running behind. Democrats are loath to admit that they are cutting off any of their candidates, but two Democrats familiar with the election strategy said that about a dozen seats now held by the party are lost. Ad-tracking data show that none of these districts is slated to receive party-funded TV ads.
“Any good strategy is about what you do, but also what you don’t do,” said Democratic strategist Mark Mellman, referring to the party’s lack of support for some candidates. “If you’re playing defense, you want to focus intensely on those seats where you can make a difference.”
Democrats are being forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each week in districts that have long favored their party, defending such veterans as Mr. Spratt and Rep. Ike Skelton in Missouri, as well as seats like those of Rep. Betty Sutton of Ohio, which were considered safe not long ago.
At the same time, Democrats are facing new efforts by Republicans to put more seats in play. The GOP House committee began airing ads recently against Democratic Rep. Charlie Wilson, who represents an eastern Ohio district that had been considered safe. Democrats followed and put up ads of their own.
Democratic leaders say all candidates will receive help with staffing and get-out-the-vote operations. But they acknowledge they have pulled back ad buys in several districts that seemed to be moving toward the GOP or were lost causes. In total, they view a dozen or more Democratic House seats as now lost.
Among them are Reps. Suzanne Kosmas in Florida and Kathleen Dahlkemper in Pennsylvania, and open seats in Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.
A Kosmas aide downplayed the significance of the move, and Rep. Dahlkemper’s spokesman said the party was still supporting her in other ways to mobilize voters.
The campaign committee has also cut ads in a few places because the Democrat is ahead, such as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona.
Some of the dropped candidates are pushing back. Rep. Steve Driehaus of Cincinnati made a fresh appeal for donations in a video posted online this week, saying it was wrong for the party committee to abandon someone who had stood with the president and the Democratic agenda.
“Let’s send a message to the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee]. Let them know that you support candidates who stand up for your principles,” he said.
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