Democrats Bracing for Republican Wave in 2010 Election

Party focuses on narrow field of competitive races, appears to be bracing for GOP wave.

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With the midterm elections less than two weeks away, the Democratic Party is pulling back campaign money from candidates apparently no longer in competitive races, signaling, some experts say, that it is bracing for a GOP tsunami in November.

The money is in the form of independent expenditures, unlimited campaign spending that parties and other groups can use in local or national races, so long as they don't coordinate it with a particular candidate. To secure the best rates, the parties reserve ad time months in advance before deciding which races are worth the precious cash.

According to Republican sources, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has scaled back or completely cut television advertising for such embattled incumbents as Reps. Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Kathy Dahlkemper of Pennsylvania, Harry Mitchell of Arizona, and Steve Kagen of Wisconsin. The DCCC would not comment on its expenditures, although it did confirm that it had pulled its advertising out of Ohio's 1st District, where freshman Rep. Steve Driehaus appears to be in a losing re-election battle against former Rep. Steve Chabot. In a video posted on YouTube, Driehaus blasted the decision, urging voters to "stand up to the DCCC" by supporting his campaign. "Cutting loose incumbents three weeks before the election is not a great place to be in," says Isaac Wood of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "I think it indicates a wave, if we didn't already know it was."

Both parties carefully monitor each other's spending in a complex game of chess that has become even more complicated this go-around, as the political parties vie with independent groups that also have deep coffers to dip into for the midterm elections. Due to the recent Supreme Court ruling removing limits on corporate spending, these groups have greater power to try to influence campaigns. Groups such as American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are spending money mostly, although not exclusively, to support Republican candidates.

In some cases, the cutbacks reveal good news for Democrats. According to the Washington Post, the DCCC has cut back from Ohio's 13th District where Rep. Betty Sutton is running for reelection, and New Orleans's 2nd, where GOP Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao is in trouble, having decided that Democratic victories there are all but assured. On the Senate side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has denied reports that it has scaled back on advertising in Missouri, where Robin Carnahan faces Republican Rep.. Roy Blunt. Kansas City television station KCTV confirmed that the party had pulled back its television advertising—although the party eventually bought some of it back. The DSCC also strongly denied reports that it is trimming advertising in Kentucky—reports that now appear to be incorrect, as Federal Election Commission filings show that the committee spent more than $300,000 on the race in last week. This signals that the party is still fighting in traditionally conservative states, Democratic officials say.

Sometimes, the majority of spending comes from outside groups, not the parties. For instance, neither party has spent anything this month in the California Senate race, where former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is challenging longtime Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer. But outside groups—from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund to the National Rifle Association American Victory Fund—are continuing to pour money into the race.

Independent expenditures on television ads have to be reported to the FEC only after they are spent, making it difficult to determine the parties' exact plans. And like good football coaches, party officials are careful not to reveal their playbooks.

Observers also relate the money game to a hand of poker in which one side hopes to try to force the other to guess where it will be spending its resources as time winds down. Democrats have been holding their cards close to the vest, waiting on many ad buys until they can have the most effect. "They've been doing a different strategy than Republicans," Wood says. "Republicans have been spending money fairly early. On the other hand, Democrats have been trying to keep their powder dry. They've been playing this game of chicken so they can make sure they're only spending in important races."