The Shrinking Congressional Battleground”“in One Map

Both parties have relatively few opportunities to pick up new seats this year.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 28: The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen on Capitol Hill August 28, 2012 in Washington, DC. It has been reported that the dome has 1,300 known cracks and breaks leaking water to the interior of the Rotunda and needs restorations. The Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $61 million before the August recess to repair the structure. On Monday, Committee on Rules and Administration chairman Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) called on Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) to support the repairs. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Scott Bland
June 29, 2014, 4:38 p.m.

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.

Buy­ing Time

Buying Time

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.
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