The last four elections have been unusually tumultuous ones for the House of Representatives. There were Democratic waves in 2006 and 2008 that swept dozens of Republicans out of office. In 2010, a Republican wave displaced an even greater number of Democrats. And in 2012, the decennial redrawing of congressional district lines uprooted more incumbents of both parties.
The result? A well-"sorted" House where there will be relatively few opportunities, compared with recent years, for the parties to pick up new seats in 2014.
An early look at where House Democrats and Republicans plan to spend millions of dollars on TV advertising in the fall helps measure that. The parties will likely direct more money into fewer districts this election than last, an indication of how the House map has shrunk—and how candidates in the few remaining House battlegrounds could be about to see more outside spending than ever.
Between them, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have already reserved about $74 million worth of TV advertising time across the country for fall House campaigns, slightly more than they'd reserved at this time two years ago. But the party committees spread those initial reservations over about 60 districts in 2012. This year, that number is 41.
Rollover the circles in the map below to see which House districts the NRCC and DCCC have targeted for television advertising.
There are many similarities between this map and what it would have looked like two years ago. Arizona, where Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Ron Barber, and Kyrsten Sinema all won swing districts in 2012, will be a major battleground again. The situation is similar in California. But a number of key districts from 2012 in areas such as Kentucky, North Carolina, and western Pennsylvania have fallen off the map since then.
It's important to note that these spending figures and locations are not final. The committees will spend a lot more money in many of these districts, and they'll end up canceling their spending in a few while adding more targets later on. One of many potential examples is in Nevada, where both parties may end up spending money in the race for the seat held by Republican Rep. Joe Heck. But neither side has signaled its intention yet, perhaps because there are few major races in the state this year and advertising rates aren't expected to rise much between now and the fall.
But the House map expanded and contracted after the early reservations in 2012, too. The point is that both parties are outlining a smaller playing field from the start this time. Part of the reason is that there are fewer "split districts"—areas that voted for one party's presidential candidate and the other party's congressional candidate—than ever before in modern politics, at about two dozen. Those are the most natural areas to expect hard-fought campaigns. But even as the number of battlegrounds has shrunk, every indication is that spending rates will keep rising.
Andrew Romanoff, a Democratic House candidate from Colorado, may have put it best a few months ago when he told National Journal, "I feel a little like a pedestrian in a Godzilla movie." For Romanoff and the few candidates contesting battleground districts in 2014, that feeling will only intensify in the fall.
Brian McGill contributed to this article.
This article appears in the June 30, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.