Republican Spending Efforts to Flip the House in 2020

Heading into the 2020 general election, the House GOP has been focused on recapturing their lost majority in the lower chamber. Democrats currently hold a 232-196 advantage, so Republicans must net at least 22 seats this November to retake control of the House. In the 2018 midterms a total of 43 seats were flipped: 41 by Democrats and 2 by Republicans. Of the 41 lost Republican seats, 31 came in districts that President Trump won in 2016 (this number fell to 30 when Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02) changed his party affiliation). Republicans believe the path to a majority takes them through these districts.

Of the seats picked up by Democrats in 2018, 13 were in districts where President Trump won by 6 points or more in 2016 (ME-02, MI-08, MN-07, NJ-03, NM-02, NY-11, NY-19, NY-22, OK-05, PA-08, SC-01, UT-04, VA-07). Currently there is pre booked spending in 12 of these 13 districts. To date in the 2020 cycle, Democrats have spent $13M on pre-bookings while Republicans have spent $17M.

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Throughout the entire 2018 cycle, Democrats out spent Republicans in these districts $62M to $45M for a combined spending total of $107M. This spending difference helped propel Democrats to their majority in the House, with most of their gains in districts won by President Trump in 2016. Spending for the 2020 cycle in these districts is so far low because it is still early in the year. As November 3rd gets closer, we expect the spending total will continue to climb to 2018 levels, if not outright exceed them.

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Republicans have invested more on pre-bookings than Democrats to date and have been the lone spenders in 5 of the 12 races (NY-11, NY-22, OK-05, PA-08, SC-01). They have also been spending more aggressively in races where there has been activity by both parties, outspending Democrats’ pre-bookings in each contest. Only two of the 12 districts are considered to lean Democratic in 2020 (MI-08, UT-04) while the remaining ten are viewed as more competitive toss up races by Cook Political Report. Recognizing President Trump’s appeal in these districts, Republicans believe they must flip these seats in order to reclaim a majority.

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Pre-booking data for the 2020 cycle shows Republicans are implementing a different strategy than they utilized in 2018. Democrats outspent Republicans during the previous cycle in all but one race (PA-08). This year, Republicans are targeting these districts earlier than Democrats, though we could see Democrats hit the air forcefully the closer we get to election day.

Republican spending has been particularly aggressive in OK-05 and SC-01 this cycle compared to the level of spending in these districts in 2018. These two races will see freshmen Democrats face their first reelection campaigns in districts President Trump won by more than 13 points.

In OK-05, Kendra Horn (D) defeated two-term incumbent Steve Russel (R) by 1.4 points in 2018 to become the state’s only Democratic representative. Two years prior, President Trump won this district by 13.5 points. To date, Republicans have spent $722K on this race, more than 2.5 times the total they spent in 2018. Republicans are putting far more resources into this race in order to recapture a seat they had previously held since 1975.

Republicans are also shifting more resources to SC-01 in 2020. In 2018, Katie Arrington (R) was defeated by Joe Cunningham (D) with a 1.4 point margin of victory. In 2016, President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 13.1 points in SC-01. So far, Republicans have spent $1.12M on this race, nearly twice as much as theyspent in 2018. Like OK-05, Cunningham’s victory placed a Democratic representative in a seat that Republicans had held since 1980.

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According to the data we have collected on pre-bookings heading into the general this November, Republicans have adopted an aggressive approach to retake their majority, especially in those districts where President Trump won in 2016 but were taken by Democrats in 2018. However, with the general more than 6 months away, we expect to see more spending by both parties in these very competitive races and will continue to monitor the comparisons.