A recent Gallup poll gives Republicans nationwide a 10-point edge in popularity, the largest in the recent history of midterm elections. That means more and more congressional seats are in play.
The party's biggest obstacle to taking advantage of that expanded playing field is money. Republican challengers, if they are unknown to voters, are especially vulnerable to advertising purchased by deep-pocketed Democratic incumbents.
For instance, in the GOP effort to unseat Democratic Rep. Patrick J. Murphy in the suburbs of Philadelphia, polls show the GOP challenger leading Murphy, 48% to 41%. But the area is an expensive media market, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has not included it in its first wave of advertising.
That means attack ads may not be countered in time. "Money can buy you confusion; it can buy a lot of fear," said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).
Alarmed by the hobbled financial status of the Republican National Committee, state party leaders now are turning to outside groups — or creating their own — to ensure they have a robust voter turnout operation in November that can swamp the competition.
In Ohio, a group of Republican activists in July created a new, tax-exempt entity called Freedom Vote with the express purpose of raising money to help pay for the type of turnout operations traditionally underwritten by the RNC.“I understood that the lack of resources from the RNC was going to have a severe impact on what the parties were going to be able to do,” said Tom Whatman, a former Ohio state party executive director and an adviser to the new organization.
As Democrats brace for a November wave that threatens their control of the House, party leaders are preparing a brutal triage of their own members in hopes of saving enough seats to keep a slim grip on the majority.In the next two weeks, Democratic leaders will review new polls and other data that show whether vulnerable incumbents have a path to victory. If not, the party is poised to redirect money to concentrate on trying to protect up to two dozen lawmakers who appear to be in the strongest position to fend off their challengers.
“We are going to have to win these races one by one,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, conceding that the party would ultimately cut loose members who had not gained ground.
With the midterm campaign entering its final two months, Democrats acknowledged that several races could quickly move out of their reach, including re-election bids by Representatives Betsy Markey of Colorado, Tom Perriello of Virginia, Mary Jo Kilroy of Ohio and Frank Kratovil Jr. of Maryland, whose districts were among the 55 Democrats won from Republicans in the last two election cycles.
Representatives John M. Spratt Jr. of South Carolina, chairman of the Budget Committee, and Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, who is seeking a 10th term, are among the senior Democrats who have appeared to gain little ground in the summer months in the toxic political environment. A sputtering economy and discontent with Washington have created a high sense of voter unease that has also put control of the Senate in question.