Congressional races set records for spending
Super-PACS add money to congressional races
There may be little drama left in the outcome, but you wouldn't know that by watching the final days of campaigning in the battle for the U.S. House.
Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees and outside groups for both parties are ramping up spending and committing tens of millions of dollars to those races.
Though Republicans, who control the House by a 242-193 margin, are in good shape to keep the majority, the National Republican Congressional Committee isn't letting up and is on track for record spending -- more than $60 million, according to a committee spokesman.
Underscoring how critical the final weeks of the campaign are, the Republican campaign committee planned to spend $45 million in the six weeks before Election Day. That's the same amount the GOP campaign arm spent altogether in 2010 when Republicans won back control of the House.
Republicans are also getting significant help from outside groups -- several GOP-backed super PACs are targeting races alongside the congressional campaign committee, and they're plugging holes with television ads in some districts where the House GOP campaign arm isn't spending money.
The American Action Network, a conservative policy group, and Congressional Leadership Fund, the Super PAC affiliated with it, spent about $25 million combined in September and October on TV spots, radio, and mail in over 20 House races, mostly defending GOP incumbents.
The YG Action Fund, a super PAC run by former aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, has targeted most of its resources toward helping Republican challengers and has spent $10 million to $12 million to help elect those candidates it believes will be the next generation of GOP leaders.
American Crossroads, the super PAC created by former Bush adviser Karl Rove, has targeted $10 million for House races. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also spent millions in support of House Republican candidates.
Democrats, meanwhile, are working to keep pace with their own spending. Despite an open acknowledgement by many Democrats that regaining control of the House is an uphill battle, they're not cutting back on resources.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its allies are also dedicating record amounts of money in 2012. The Democratic campaign committee has spent $34 million already, and had a total of $54 million to spend over the course of the campaign.
And while they are quick to complain about the influence of outside money, Democrats are also getting major assistance from groups supporting Democratic candidates.
The House Majority PAC spent $35 million over the 2012 election cycle -- $7 million of which will be spent in the final two weeks.
Andy Stone, the spokesman for House Majority PAC told CNN, "We will make serious gains for sure."
Labor unions, like the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, are also chipping in for television spots and mobilizing members in targeted races.
Battle being played on narrow playing field
All 435 members of the House face voters on Tuesday, but control of the chamber ultimately rests on roughly 50 to 60 competitive races due partly to redistricting.
The number of swing districts has continued to shrink over the years as GOP legislatures shored up their seats and Democratic-led state houses strengthened their party's districts.
Democrats need to pick up 25 Republican seats to flip control, something that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi repeatedly argues is within reach.
Pelosi conceded Democrats would lose some seats when she told CNN recently that Democrats would need to "net 25 seats," and several veteran campaign analysts said the total number of seats Democrats need to win is between 35 and 40.
Pelosi and other Democrats pointed out that currently there are 58 Republicans representing districts won by Obama in 2008 and hold those up as their blueprint to a successful election night.
But David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report, says Democrats are really only waging competitive campaigns in 32 of those districts, which isn't enough to win the House back.
Stuart Rothenberg, an independent campaign analyst, projected last week that Democrats would gain between two and eight seats next Tuesday.
A senior House GOP campaign official told CNN on Wednesday that despite others predicting Republicans will lose seats, they believe they will actually gain between four and six.
A key part of House Democrats' strategy is to target more than a dozen so-called "orphan districts" -- congressional seats in states where the presidential campaign is not active and where Obama is expected to carry the state handily.
For example, Democrats are trying hard to unseat GOP incumbents in California, New York, and Obama's home state of Illinois.
Right after Republicans took control in 2010, House Speaker John Boehner recognized this weak spot and focused a major effort to support the mostly GOP freshmen in these states. Boehner has personally raised more than $10 million to help build local organizations and traveled extensively to stump for these candidates.
Back in April he raised the prospect of potentially significant losses in orphan districts, his remarks intended to warn Republicans focused on the presidential race and the battle for the Senate not to take GOP control of the House for granted.
The battleground for many of these House races has tilted increasingly toward the northeast and Midwest, after so many moderate Democrats lost in southern districts in the 2010 midterms.
In Illinois, Democrats see opportunities to defeat tea party freshman Rep Joe Walsh, seven-term Rep Judy Biggert, and a moderate Republican freshman Rep. Bob Dold.
Democrats have also set their sights on freshmen Reps. Nan Hayworth, Chris Gibson, Ann Marie Buerkle, and Michael Grimm in New York.
Former President Bill Clinton held a rally on Sunday in New York for Sean Patrick Maloney, his former aide who is running against Hayworth. He also recently held an event for five California Democrats, another area where campaign officials argue they can upset several GOP incumbents.
California Rep. Xavier Becerra, one of Pelosi's top lieutenants, told CNN a combination of wins in orphan districts, combined with pickups sprinkled around the country could translate into a path to the majority.
But even Becerra conceded, "we'd need a wind" to get those kind of gains. With a bitterly contested presidential election in 2012 that's expected to be close it's not the political environment for any kind of wave election.
Two years after tea party fuels GOP win, fades as 2010 factor
House Republican candidates are still stressing the core issues that the tea party movement pushed in 2010 -- less government and a focus on cutting federal spending and the deficit, but as one senior GOP strategist working on House races explained, they are "not wearing the tea party label on their sleeves."
Democrats, bolstered by polling that shows that many voters blame the tea party as the reason for gridlock in Washington, continue to try to pin the label on virtually every Republican incumbent and challenger.
House Democrats' campaign chief Rep. Steve Israel, D-New York, argued to reporters last month that the "Tea Party Republican Congress has a 13% approval rating," and maintained Democrats have a chance to regain the majority because "there is a deep sense of buyer's remorse spreading throughout this country."
Even in a solidly blue state like Massachusetts, Democrats are trying to brand Tisei, who already said he would break with his party on taxes, as a tea party Republican.
Democrats say control could hinge on unease over Wisconsin Representative and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan's Medicare plan.
Pelosi insists that Romney's pick of Ryan as his running mate was the game-changing moment in the battle for the House.
"Mark your calendar, August 11th, the day he was chosen gave a clarification to the issue of Medicare," Pelosi said about Ryan on CNN earlier this month. "This is a person who has been the destroyer of Medicare guarantee," she added.
Democrats had already been highlighting the Ryan Medicare proposal across the country, but they believe that giving it national prominence helped make their case that the dramatic overhaul the House Budget Committee chairman proposed would prove too alarming to voters.
Democrats hold up their win in a special election last May in upstate New York when Democrat Kathy Hochul linked Ryan's proposal to her GOP opponent Jane Corwin and took over what had been a reliably red seat.
But one top GOP strategist told CNN that that upstate New York special election "was the best thing that ever happened to us. It prepared us, it opened us up, and it gave us a year to explain our plan."
Republicans argued it was the Democrats who were gutting Medicare -- by using more than $700 million in reductions for payments to physicians to pay for Obamacare. The GOP candidate Mark Amodei won that election and the strategy has been replicated by candidates ever since.
With the bulk of this cycle's competitive races concentrated in districts represented by the more moderate members of each party, the outcome of this election will mean an even more polarized House in 2013.
The GOP conference will include even more conservatives and the likely loss of more moderate Democrats, whose ranks were already decimated in 2010, will tilt the Democratic caucus further to the left.
A recent study by the Cook Political Report of all congressional districts found that the number of swing districts in the United States went from 164 to 99 in the last 14 years. That decline will undoubtedly have an impact on the ideological divide between the two parties in the House not just this year, but in future elections.
"There's a remarkable reduction in the number of members who have an incentive to compromise," Wasserman told CNN.
Copyright 2012 by CNN NewSource. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.