The midterm elections, despite months of news coverage and media battles, are only now wrapping up the pre-season. The campaigns begin in earnest this week, as a critical fundraising deadline passes and voters only now begin paying real attention to the critical contests. Democrats, with a horde of cash, fought the pre-season to a draw or a slim decision-on-points. They have, at the very least, blunted talk of a GOP ‘wave.’ Despite its numerous missteps, however, the Republicans are beginning to break out of the political stalemate.
The story of the political pre-season has been the Democrats dominating cash advantage. The DSCC, the campaign arm of the Senate Democrats, has out-raised its GOP counterpart $111 million to $83 million this cycle. At the end of August, Democrats had $25 million cash-on-hand, while the GOP had $19 million. Given Obama’s unpopularity and the unfavorable political terrain, the Democrat funding advantage has been a surprise. With the Senate Republicans still attacking conservatives, however, perhaps it isn’t that surprising.
The Democrats funding advantage has kept them competitive in the critical battleground states. According to a recent media analysis, the number of pro-Democrat Senate ads is up 91% over 2010. Over 70% of the pro-Democrat ads have been negative attacks against Republicans. Comparable numbers for Republicans, or even Democrats in the House, aren’t even in the same constellation as these. It goes a long way to explain why Republicans and Democrats are locked in near stalemates in almost all of the battleground states.
The end of the campaign pre-season, however, means that the Democrats funding advantage will start to have diminishing returns. At some point very soon, Republicans and Democrats will achieve near-parity on their ad buys. There is a finite universe of ad time that can be bought. A fundraising edge lets a campaign buy time earlier in the race, but it doesn’t necessarily allow the campaign to by a significant amount more time in the final weeks of the campaign.
The challenge for Democrats is that, even in states where they remain competitive, like North Carolina and Iowa, their candidates are stuck in the low to mid-40s in the polls. That isn’t a good position if the edge has been built on an out-sized spending advantage. Left unanswered, an artillery barrage can hold a position for a while, but it will give way if the other side can counter with its own artillery.
The underlying dynamics still strongly favor the GOP. Through GOP campaign missteps, the Democrats may hold a race or two, but the trends are starting to break for Republicans. Kentucky, Georgia and Arkansas are almost out-of-reach of the Democrats. Adding in the certain GOP gains in Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia, nets the GOP 4 of the 6 seats it needs to take control.
Alaska, Iowa and Colorado are looking like very solid gains for the GOP. North Carolina and New Hampshire are very tight and look, at this stage, to be pure toss-ups. Louisiana is trending Republican, but will likely not be decided until a run-off in December. GOP Sen. Roberts reelection in Kansas looks troubling, but the Democrat zeal to drop their own candidate and embrace the Independent candidate will likely back-fire. National Republicans have created the Kansas mess, but a straight-up conservative versus liberal contest will give Roberts the edge in the end.
That is a lot of opportunities for the GOP to secure the two seats they need to take control of the Senate. When one considers that races in Virginia, Minnesota and Michigan will continue to tighten in the coming weeks, one can begin to see the shape of a GOP breakout.
The Democrats fought a good pre-season. Fortunately for Republicans, the election is November 4th, not October 4th.