WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to build a firewall against a Republican takeover, congressional Democrats are pouring money into roughly two dozen tight races around the country in the campaign's closing weeks while pulling it back from others where their chances seem slimmer.
With polls showing Republicans increasingly well-positioned to seize control of the House, the Democrats are planning TV ad blitzes to shore up their best-positioned incumbents and a handful of challengers in races they believe they can still win.
At the same time, they're scaling back advertising plans to help a number of lawmakers including Reps. Betsy Markey of Colorado, Harry Teague of New Mexico and Steve Driehaus and Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio. They've also cut back on ad campaigns to defend Democratic-held open seats in Indiana and Kansas.
The party strongly denies it's abandoning these candidates, some of whom are benefiting from Democratic-leaning outside groups that are spending on their behalf. And advertising plans are changing daily at this critical juncture.
But the shifting of resources — along with analysis of the parties' spending and interviews with Republican and Democratic strategists — paints a clear picture of the damage-control effort.
Officials and operatives in both parties spoke to The Associated Press about the strategy on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to detail the plans.
At stake is control of the House — where Democrats hold 255 seats, Republicans 178, and there are two vacancies — and the power to press or block key elements of President Barack Obama's agenda midway through his term. All 435 seats are on the ballot, and more than 75 are competitive, the vast majority now held by Democrats. Republicans need to gain 40 seats to win control.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, head of the Democrats' House campaign arm, said his operation is supporting all Democrats and he's confident of maintaining control. But he acknowledged that an aggressive strategy is needed to stop Republicans from reaching deep into Democratic territory.
Republicans are "going to try and run the table, but they're going to run into a hard wall of reality that a lot of these members are in very strong positions," Van Hollen said.
Not likely, Republicans say.
"Throughout the summer and now into the fall, the playing field has continuously expanded, pulling once-safe Democrats into the fray to join their endangered colleagues," Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the head of the party's House campaign committee, wrote in a memo this week.
Van Hollen's Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved at least $52 million of TV advertising in 65 districts, slightly more than it had planned to pour into races around the country. The National Republican Congressional Committee now plans to invest $45 million in 62 districts — more than double what it had initially budgeted — to make a play for more than 20 additional seats beyond those the party first envisioned.
Democrats said they were focusing on stopping the bleeding where possible, including trying to salvage the seats of several threatened lawmakers who earlier this year looked like safe re-election bets. They include Colorado Rep. John Salazar, Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop, Illinois Rep. Phil Hare, and Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly, and Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton of Missouri.
For now, the party is also spending to try to preserve the jobs of Democrats in conservative or swing territory, including Rep. Frank Kratovil in Maryland, Mark Schauer in Michigan, Scott Murphy, Bill Owens and Mike Arcuri in New York, John Boccieri and Zack Space in Ohio, and Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello in Virginia.
The party also is fighting to keep Democratic-held open seats in Arkansas, Washington and Wisconsin, and to claim two now held by the GOP in Illinois and in Miami, Fla.
Much can change in coming days, as officials watch internal polls to determine whether these and other vulnerable incumbents still have a chance to win tight races.
Republicans plunked down more than $45,000 this week for advertising in Democratic-leaning Massachusetts district being vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt, and Democrats shelled out almost twice that to try to keep the seat in their column.
There are also a plethora of high-stakes games of cat-and-mouse between the two parties unfolding across the political map, with each side trying to prod the other into gambling with limited resources.
Republicans are reaching into districts Democrats were counting on winning — such as Rep. Ben Chandler's in Kentucky and Murphy's in upstate New York — and spending heavily, forcing Democrats to follow suit. They've also reserved $800,000 to advertise against Space, goading Democrats into answering them or pulling out altogether.
The Republicans are trying to capitalize on Democratic weakness, spreading their cash to create a wave to sweep into power. As the majority seeks to build a dam, the GOP is focused on creating new trouble spots, daring Democrats to divert resources from districts where they trail to defend seats they once thought of as safe.
Associated Press Writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Liz Sidoti contributed to this report.
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