Democrats midterm strategy is “hold the line,” says Politico

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House Democrats face a bleak outlook for the November midterms, in addition to a near-constant barrage of negative Koch brothers’ ads.

So far, the party’s clearest answer, according to Alex Isenstadt of Politico, is to shore up both endangered incumbents and only the strongest challengers — leaving many upstart candidates on their own.

Politico interviewed nearly two dozen strategists and party officials to learn the latest strategy, which quietly acknowledges the problems facing Democrats in the coming months.

The main goal is to prevent Republicans from gaining on their 17-seat lead in the House, with eyes on a “striking distance” of a majority in the 2016 elections, where Democrats have a much more favorable opportunity.

This week, the House Majority PAC, a major player in congressional contests, will begin placing orders for the first in a series of TV spots, reserving airtime in 24 districts, 18 of which held by incumbents. The ads will run starting Labor Day as midterm races heat up.

Much of the ad buy is to shore up the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, such as Rep. John Tierney of Massachusetts and Minnesota’s Rep. Rick Nolan. The move tries to avoid mistakes made in 2010, when the party held off on races thought to be safe, but wound up losing.

House Majority PAC will also support several Democrats favored to win, such as Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy and Rep. Dan Maffei of New York.

Executive director Ali Lapp tells Politico that early investments total about $6.5 million, but could eventually rise to as much as $45 million to $50 million. Early reservations of ad space provide a foundation on how the PAC plays out in the fall.

To choose the best deployment of resources, Democratic operatives have been busy examining the extent of damage incumbents sustained from attacks from the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity. Showing how serious the situation has become, they began polling much earlier in the election year than originally planned.

While it is common for the DCCC, the party’s House political organization, to assess Democratic candidates on fundraising performance, campaign management and relative strength, some campaign veterans told Politico they believe the committee is being far more stringent than in the past.

After months of badgering DCCC, one vulnerable member received a commitment of field support in the wake of the party’s loss in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“It lit a fire under them,” said an aide to the special election candidate. “‘They should hunker down, minimize their losses, and live to fight another day.”

Several Democrats point out that 2014 is shaping up to be very different from the 2010 midterms, when Democrats lost 63 seats and the House majority. Democrats then were forced into playing defense, but this year offers a chance at offense.

“There’s just this knowledge that it’s a shrinking map,”according to a campaign manager for a high-profile Democratic candidate. “If you’re not meeting [their] benchmarks, they’re saying you’re not going to be in their pool of candidates.”

Although DCCC officials have not yet announced its schedule of TV ad reservations, the committee does have enough money to launch powerful offensives in several districts nationwide. The committee posted solid fundraising numbers for this election cycle, with $17 million more than Republican counterparts up to the end of February.

Other Democrats take the DCCC approach as a “hold the line” strategy: helping incumbents with reelected, limiting electoral losses and drive towards 2016, which many feel is a much more favorable year for the party.

“If we can hold the gains from 2012, we can win the House in 2016,” Steve Murphy, a Democratic strategist working on a number of House races, told Politico. “Holding our 2012 gains would be a huge victory for Democrats this year.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.