From New York to California, Democrats are finding themselves spending big to defend incumbents in blue House districts easily won by President Joe Biden two years ago.
The surge in last-minute spending in deep blue states and Democratic strongholds, detailed in data from ad tracking firm AdImpact, underscores just how much the political winds have shifted in Republican favor and how the GOP — backed by well-funded super PACs — has widened the battleground in the final campaign sprint.
In Southern California, Rep. Julia Brownley is making personal appeals to fellow Democrats to send money to her campaign as her internal polls point to a showdown with her GOP challenger, two sources told NBC News.
Democrats have spent millions of dollars raised from party entities and outside groups to protect Rep. Jahana Hayes, the former Connecticut Teacher of the Year who won decisively in 2018 and 2020.
And the House Democrats’ campaign spent hundreds of thousands of dollars last week trying to save their chairman in Biden’s upstate New York district.
It’s not all bad news for Democrats. Recent polls suggest Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas is viewed favorably by a majority of voters, and the party is making new investments in GOP-leaning seats such as Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, south of Tacoma. But in other parts of the country, Democrats have pulled out of races against some vulnerable Republicans, such as California Reps. Mike Garcia and Michelle Steel, and shifted that money to protect candidates running for seats once believed to be safe.
“Things are not great. Everybody knows that,” said one House Democrat, who has seen outside groups spend millions of dollars in their blue district.
“I think some of these races are tight, so they spend. I mean, a lot of the guys in these districts didn’t spend any money. So if you could spend a few bucks and support it, why not?”
But spending money to support these races – many of which weren’t even thought of as such competitive just months ago — adding to the challenges Democrats face in a tough election cycle where Republicans need to flip just five seats to take control of the House. And it has Democratic lawmakers like Rep. Dina Titus, a top GOP target despite the blue leaning of her Las Vegas district, begging her party and supporters for help.
“Do you trust me now?” Titus he tweeted after a new poll showed her tied with her GOP challenger.
A year ago, House Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who is slated to become speaker if Republicans flip the House, predicted his party would pick up more than 60 seats in the 2022 midterms. But this summer, after a Supreme Court ruling on abortion emboldened Democratic voters, McCarthy tempered expectations and some Republicans braced for smaller gains in November.
Now that voters are turning their attention back to issues like rising inflation and crime, some Republicans are predicting a wider margin of victory on Nov. 8. One House Republican affiliated with the House GOP campaign predicted a net gain of more than 25 seats, while another lawmaker campaigning for colleagues across the country said the party would gain 250 seats, up 38 seats.
Dan Conston, head of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a McCarthy-linked super PAC, said on the Politico podcast last week that the party would pick up 20-22 seats given how few swing districts there are after redistricting.
Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the House campaign chairman, said Republicans are poised for a big win on election night.
“Within a matter of weeks, Democrats went from whining that they were going to hold the House to spending millions on Biden in the double digits,” he said in a statement to NBC News. “Republicans have the candidates, the message and the momentum to make history on Election Day.”
A New York Times/Siena College poll released Oct. 17 found that economic concerns — fueled by persistently high inflation — are the most important issues for likely voters. Survey respondents most worried about the economy favored Republican candidates over Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin.
In Tito’s district, 50% of them by survey said economic issues were most important, compared to 36% who said social issues such as abortion rights and democracy were most important.
“At the core of it, when I’m standing in the grocery store or when I’m filling up at the gas station, every person I talk to says [the economy] is the number one thing that keeps them up at night,” Rep. Kat Cammack of Florida told NBC News. “And I think that explains why this red wave is going to be so big.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democratic campaign, said it is not throwing in the towel. Officials say they’ve known for a long time that 2022 would be a tough cycle and have backed Hayes and other vulnerable Democrats while keeping a close eye on races for other incumbents like Brownley.
“Nearly a week from Election Day, House Democrats are well positioned to retain their majority despite a gerrymandered Republican map and shadowy campaigns by money-driven MAGA Republicans. We took nothing for granted and it paid off,” said DCCC spokesman Chris Taylor.
“From New York to Alaska to ruby red Kansas, Democrats and the mainstream center have surprised pundits and forecasters because voters know Democrats will protect women’s freedoms, invest in public safety and invest in an economy that works for everyone.”
One of the most prominent examples of Democrats rushing to save an incumbent in blue-collar Biden territory came last week, when the DCCC said it would spend $605,000 on ads to protect its own chairman, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, as a GOP group. pour millions into the race for your rival. After the DCCC’s announcement, the veteran super PAC said it would spend $1.2 million on ads supporting Maloney, and First Lady Jill Biden will trip with Maloney on Sunday in his new district, which backed Biden by 10 percentage points over former President Donald Trump in 2020 . .
Here’s a look at the deep blue seats where Democrats are spending:
California’s 26th District: In recent days, Brownley has begun reaching out to colleagues asking them to send campaign contributions after an internal poll — which previously showed her at 7 points — showed her dead even with her opponent, according to a lawmaker Brownley called. A colleague said they immediately did an inspection. On Friday, the DCCC and Brownley booked a joint $92,000 ad buy, while Emily’s List booked $500,000 in ads for Brownley by Election Day last week. Brownley’s District, north of Los Angeles, favored Biden over Trump by nearly 20 points in 2020.
Connecticut’s 5th Circuit: Democrats have already spent $4.5 million to re-elect Hayes in a district that supported Biden 54.6% to Trump’s 43.9% in the last election. Between today and Election Day, Democrats said they plan to spend an additional $1.5 million on ads to counter comparable spending by Republicans. A recent poll showed former state Sen. George Logan leading Hayes 48% to 47%, within the margin of error.
New Jersey’s 5th and 11th Districts: Democratic-leaning groups last week booked $2.3 million in television ads supporting Rep. Mikie Sherrill and another $2.3 million for House Resolutions Co-Chairman Josh Gottheimer. Both are moderate Democrats whose districts favored Biden over Trump by double digits in 2020. Politico recently reported that a portion of the $21 million total donated by former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg to the House Majority PAC was earmarked for Sherrill and Gottheimer, who both supported Bloomberg in his White House bid two years ago. A source familiar with the situation confirmed the spending plans to NBC News.
2nd District of Rhode Island: While Rhode Island hasn’t had a Republican member of the House since the 1990s, the race to succeed outgoing Rep. Jim Langevin has been competitive since the Sept. 13 primary. Biden won the district by nearly 14 points in 2020, but Republicans believe former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung can beat Democratic Chief Treasurer Seth Magaziner. Both parties accounted for more than $2.7 million in advertising spending between last Friday and Election Day.