Mid-term elections are all about the control of territory.  The more districts one party can put real pressure on, the more the other party has to spread out its money and spend where it didn’t intend. Right now it looks as if the GOP is winning the territory war for both the House and the Senate.

Politico is reporting Friday that pressure on incumbents who normally would not need as much support is forcing the DCCC, concentrating their money on incumbents and leave out some party newcomers who may have had a chance to make their races competitive if they had support. 

House Democrats, battered by Koch brothers ads and facing a grim
outlook for the midterms, are providing the clearest indication yet of
how they plan to respond: By shoring up imperiled incumbents and only
the most promising challengers, but most likely leaving some of the
party’s upstart hopefuls to fend for themselves.

The aim of the
strategy, detailed in nearly two dozen interviews with party officials
and strategists, is a tacit acknowledgement of the ominous political
environment Democrats are up against this year. The goal is to stop
Republicans from padding their 17-seat edge and keep the party within
striking distance of the majority in 2016, a presidential election year
that could well be more favorable to Democrats.

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The money shift away from attacks on GOP incumbents will allow the NRCC to become even more aggressive in attacking the Democratic Party incumbents.

A similar process is happening in the Senate races.  The GOP needs to win at least six seats to wrest control from the Democrats. But the GOP is becoming competitive in more states every week.  Why they won’t necessarily win all those competitive seats, they are forcing the Democrats to spread out their money and spend to support incumbents that a few weeks ago they didn’t expect to need aggressive support.

Last month the Cook Political Report moved four Democratic Party-held states in our direction. New Hampshire went from Likely D to Lean D, and North Carolina, Alaska, and Louisiana are now considered Toss Ups (joining Arkansas and Michigan in that column). This brings the total number of seats held by Democrats that are rated as Toss Up, Lean R, or Likely R to eight.  But the pressure goes beyond those eight

Seats which are open because of a Democrat retirement:

South Dakota (,Cook – Likely R): Former Governor Mike Rounds has consistently polled at over 50% in this race. Most recently he garnered 51% in February 2014 (Rasmussen), and before that he got 52% in September ’13 (Harper) and 52% in March ’13 (PPP). South Dakota is missing from the list of states in which the DSCC claimed they will spend $60million dollars to win .

West Virginia ( Cook – Lean R): Supposed Democratic rising-star Natalie Tennant has failed to make any headway against Republican Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito in this race. Capito has consistently led in the polls from both the left (PPP, +14%) and the right (Rasmussen, +14%). Capito has a four-to-one cash advantage ($4.2m-to-$1m) that nicely compliments her double-digit polling advantage.

( Cook – Lean R): Congressman Steve Daines continues to hold the reins in this race against Montana’s newest (appointed) Democratic Senator, John Walsh. Democrats had thought they scored a major coup with their “Big Sky Buyoff” (appointing Walsh to the open Senate seat on Baucus’ ambassadorial appointment), but it does not seem to have paid off.  Before this whole backroom deal came together, Daines was scoring 52% against Walsh (PPP), after he scores 51% (Rasmussen) – that’s a whole lot of effort from DEMs for no movement in the race.

Michigan (Cook – Toss Up): Michigan has long been rated a toss-up by Charlie Cook (since December ’13 to be exact). The Republican, Former
Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has held consistent leads over
Democratic Congressman Gary Peters in five out of the seven public polls
conducted in 2014 (conducted since race earned Toss Up rating). And, Land has outraised Peters in every quarter since joining the race. This quarter, Land brought in $1.5million.

This may be why the DSCC felt the need to send their Director of Campaigns from the DC office out to Michigan to take over the campaign. Or it may be this devastating ad from AFP highlighting ObamaCare’s real world impact on Michigan families. Either way, Michigan is looking up for the GOP, which was very unexpected.

Iowa (Cook – Lean D): If you haven’t yet had the chance, take a moment to watch this video
of Rep. Bruce Braley express his true feelings about Iowa farmers and
his perception of their inferiority to trial lawyers. For context,
approximately 90% the entire land area in Iowa is farmland. There are
more than 90,000 farms in the state that employ nearly 350,000 Iowans
according to Iowa State University.Polling in the race has consistently shown a majority of voters disapproving
of the job Obama is doing as President. And, while Braley is far better
known in the state than any of the GOP challengers (for now), he
captures a maximum of 38% of the vote… it’s almost as if voters are
looking for an alternative.  This too is a race that is much more competitive than anticipated.

Incumbent Democrats:

(Cook – Toss Up): Senator Pryor has long been considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents of the cycle, and both Democrats and Republicans have taken to the air to try to influence this race early. There has been nearly $6million of TV advertising so far from eighteen different outside groups on both sides of the aisle. And, Pryor’s campaign has gambled a lot of their resources early, putting up nearly twice the amount of TV ($1.25million) as Cotton’s campaign ($650k). Through all of this, Cotton has either led by outside the margin of error, or been in a statistical tie with Pryor. Cotton is probably the most qualified GOP candidate battling an incumbent.

Louisiana (Cook – Toss Up): Cook Political recently moved Louisiana from Lean D to Toss Up, citing poor polling which portray Landrieu’s position as being similar to Pryor “who has been in the Toss Up column for months.” Landrieu and Obamacare are very unpopular in Louisiana.

The polling on Landrieu has shown her stuck between 39% and 45%, suggesting that this race will go to a December runoff. And, in head-to-head polling with Congressman Bill Cassidy, she does not fare so well, trailing the Congressman and Doctor by four according to the most recent numbers.

North Carolina (Cook – Toss Up): Same story, different state. Cook Political also moved North Carolina from Lean D to Toss Up.  When even the liberal PPP, based in North Carolina, finds their own incumbent Senator Kay Hagen trailing Republican candidates on the ballot it is time for Democrats to start worrying.  Doubly worrying for DEMs is the Thom Tillis fundraising potential for this race. Tillis nearly doubled his fundraising output this quarter, bringing in $1.3million in Q1. Senator Hagan will certainly be well-funded thanks to the help of her liberal friends around the country ($2.8million), but it is unlikely to be enough since she is already working from a ballot deficit.

Alaska (Cook – Toss Up):  Alaska also moves into the Toss Up column. At the end of the quarter, Rasmussen found that Begich trailed one GOP challenger and tied the second, Obama is inverted on his job approval by double digits, and six-in-ten have an unfavorable view of ObamaCare.  Remember Begich barely beat Republican Ted Stevens six years ago.  Stevens would have won if he hadn’t been accused of a scandal of which he was later cleared. RepublicanDan Sullivan is no flash in the pan. Sullivan brought in an impressive $1.3million for the quarter, closing the filing period with nearly $2million cash on hand.  This total eclipsed incumbent Senator Begich’s haul ($1million). Begich has $2.8million cash on hand, and will likely use every cent to deceive Alaska voters about his record, but he can’t hide from his near-universal support for Obama and his policies (not too popular in Alaska).

Other States Facing GOP Pressure:

Colorado: The entrance of Rep. Cory Gardner into the race immediately throws Colorado into contention. Senator Udall’s numbers have been weak for a long time now (Quinnipiac: 45% or less on all ballots, 42% re-elect, 59% disapprove of Obama’s job performance), and Gardner is a strong candidate poised to capitalize on this opportunity.  Since Gardner’s entry into the race, three polls from across the political spectrum (Rasmussen, Harper, PPP) have shown this race as a tie.

New Hampshire:  Although there is still a primary to get through Scott Brown’s entrance into the race has made it a GOP possibility. Like Colorado above the Democrats will have to spend money where they didn’t anticipate. According to one poll, Brown has a lead in the race which is outside the margin of error (49% Brown – 44% Shaheen). In a state where President Obama has only one-third of voters approving of his job performance while 57% disapprove, that has to be a concern for DEMs.

Former GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie’s decision to challenge Senator Mark Warner has moved this race from a “no way” to a “maybe.”. Upon jumping into the race, Ed raised over $300k in the first week, and prompted the UVA Center for Politics to downgrade their prediction of Warner’s chances.  Polling does currently give Democratic Senator Warner a lead, but more importantly, this is the type of environment that could leave him high and dry as Virginians get to know Gillespie. A majority of Virginia’s voters disapprove of Obama and disapprove of ObamaCare. Moreover, Warner is unable to break the 50% mark on the ballot.

Oregon:  Another state where the GOP selection hasn’t been chosen.  Harper Polling took a recent look at Oregon, and found Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley to be incredibly vulnerable, far more so than most suspected. Merkley is well below 50% on the ballot, his favorables are only at 39%, and a majority disapproves of the job Obama has been doing as President.

Minnesota: Incumbent Al Franken is waiting for the GOP primary to pick his opponent but recent polls have shown that President Obama’s approval rating in this state is in the mid-thirties, yet Al Franken, has voted with him 100% of the time. Perhaps that is a reason why polling has shown that Franken is indeed vulnerable.  Here too is a race where the Democrats may need to spend more than planned and may even lose.

It’s all about the territory.  Republican strength and the weakness of the incumbent Democrats and President Obama is forcing the Democrats to spend their money against incumbents who they thought would win in a cake walk. In both the 2014 House and Senate races, it seems that the GOP are on offense, and the Democrats are trying to defend what they have.