April 24, 2020
Since we last checked in on fall reservations, House Majority PAC (HMP) and Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) have reserved a combined $87M in TV ads in key congressional districts. House reservations carry far more uncertainty than Senate reservations. Each election cycle, there are more competitive House districts than competitive Senate seats, and the smaller geographic nature of congressional districts sometimes makes it difficult to discern what districts ads will target. For example, in 2018, Minneapolis had four competitive districts (MN-01, MN-02, MN-03, and MN-08). Based on current reservations, there is no definitive way of knowing which districts will be 2020 targets until the ads air. However, the competitive ratings of certain seats can help us make some educated guesses about which districts will be targeted in the fall.
Prebooking Spending Analysis
Making early reservations is perhaps more financially beneficial in House races than in any other type of election. With so many seats up for grabs, groups have a lot of flexibility in their strategy for targeting certain districts. There is no cost for cancelling a reservation, but buying into a new market at a later date will likely incur a premium, especially in large markets with Senate or Presidential activity. This incentivizes buying early and sticking to original targets in order to save considerable amounts of money, which is vital considering Cook Political Report currently rates 89 districts as competitive.
HMP has made $52.9 in fall reservations, and CLF follows at $35.0M. HMP is in 32 markets, and CLF is in 29. As is expected after retaking so many seats in 2018, the Democrats are on the defensive and the majority of their spending is directed at districts they already hold. However, they do appear to be going on the offensive in a few districts. These districts are largely those rated as Toss Up by Cook Political report, with perennial targets NE-02 and TX-23 included as well. The one perhaps most likely to flip is NJ-02, which Democrats won in 2018 before Jeff Van Drew switched parties. MN-01, one of the many competitive districts surrounding Minneapolis, has the most reserved HMP spending of any district held by a Republican. After being in Democratic hands for a decade, they will hope to limit Jim Hagedorn to one term.
CLF, on the other hand, is clearly on the offensive. They have only made reservations in six districts currently held by Republicans, totaling $5.8M. These districts are: PA-01, GA-07, PA-10, NE-02, IL-13, and NY-24. Their offensive targets are mostly the 17 Toss Up districts held by Democrats, plus a scattering of longer-shot opportunities. Some of these seats may represent easy pickup opportunities with the higher turnout of a presidential year, especially in safely red presidential states such as Oklahoma and South Carolina.
One of the defining characteristics of the 2018 battle for the House, was the focus on California. California saw $130M of House spending in 2018, twice as much as any other state. It is too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but it does not appear to be a key state in the battle for the House this year. So far Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Iowa lead the way with $11M, $9M, and $8M in reservations, respectively. One state to watch is Texas, which has a number of the suburban-type districts that flipped blue in California in 2018, despite being ancestrally Republican.
From relatively early on in 2018, the battle for the House was one of the major political stories of the year. In 2020, it has been greatly overshadowed by both the Presidential election and the Senate fight. Several members of both parties have mentioned some difficulty with low-dollar fundraising with the Presidential race taking up so much of the political oxygen. Given the extreme polarization of today’s political environment, one wonders if the top of the ticket will have a substantial impact on the House. It will perhaps be easier for the GOP to reclaim seats such as SC-01 and OK-05, but harder to recapture seats in blue states such as California. We will continue to track the battle for the house as more groups make reservations.