By ALAN FRAM, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — You can do a lot with a billion dollars — but still not change much. This Election Day, it's likely to produce another Republican-led House that's little different from the existing version.
Candidates, both political parties and hordes of corporate, labor, ideological and other groups have spent a record $1.1 billion on House races since this campaign cycle began last year, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Yet by the time the last votes are counted Tuesday, Democrats may pick up a handful of districts but are widely expected to miss their goal of gaining the 25 additional seats they need to grab control of the chamber.
—The redrawing of congressional districts to reflect the new census. Both parties protected incumbents but Republicans shielded more.
—A preponderance of at-risk Republican-held seats that the GOP offset with extra financial muscle.
—A close presidential race that has prevented either party from gaining a sweeping coattail advantage.
—Overarching national issues have not tilted the playing field to one side or the other.
"First and foremost it's redistricting," said Democratic pollster Dave Beattie, citing how GOP-led state legislatures were able to redraw congressional maps. "Institutionally, they were able in a redistricting year to protect the House gains they made in 2010," when Republicans captured House control.
Like most years, the vast majority of both parties' incumbents are likely to win. The percentage of victorious House members seeking re-election has dipped below 90 percent only twice since 1974 — in 2010 when the GOP stormed into control and 1992, when Democrats were hurt by a scandal involving the House post office.
Out of 435 House seats, around 60 are seriously competitive this year. About three dozen are currently held by Republicans and two dozen by Democrats. A handful of others are either new districts with no incumbents or races in which current House members are squaring off against each other.
In districts from one ocean to the other, Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to gut Medicare, the popular health insurance program for the elderly, and slice domestic programs like education while seeking tax cuts for the rich. They've also accused them of attacking women's rights with measures to curb abortion and cut funds for Planned Parenthood.
"Is he representing you?" asks an ad by the House Majority PAC, a political committee steered by House Democratic leaders, that attacks Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif., for his votes on Medicare and other health issues.
The GOP has lambasted Democrats for supporting President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and other big spending programs like Obama's economic stimulus package. Democrats also are accused of cutting Medicare themselves and boosting taxes on the middle class.
"He is out of touch with central New York," an ad by the House GOP campaign committee says of former Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei, who is seeking to return to Washington. The spot faults Maffei for businesses leaving the district.
Through October, the GOP has enjoyed the spending edge.
Current House GOP candidates have spent $500 million from their own campaigns, reinforced by $99 million from outside groups like American Crossroads and $65 million from the House Republican campaign organization, according to the center.
Democratic candidates have spent $374 million, plus $71 million from outside groups like the Service Employees International Union and $61 million from the House Democratic campaign committee.
Added together, that's given the GOP the upper hand by $664 million to $506 million.
Among those targeted by outside groups: Orlando area Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., the focus of $1.1 million in ads being run by Independence USA PAC, a political action committee run by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent.
"It's Michael Bloomberg coming in from storm-ravaged New York. I don't think in our district that if that were known that would play very well," said Webster campaign consultant Kirsten Borman.