Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Republicans spend up to $9 million on Calif. Congressional races; Democrats do same

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A screen capture of a Democratic Committee television advertisement against Republican U.S. representative Mary Bono Mack. Both political parties have allotted $9 million to California races, including advertisements like this one.

Seeing an opportunity to preserve current Congressional seats or gain new ones in the wake of redistricting in California, the National Republican Congressional Committee has set aside up to $9 million for races in the state, and the committee's Democratic counterpart has allocated a similar amount. Here's where some of that money is being spent — and why.
The top priority for both parties is protecting vulnerable incumbents. The NRCC is spending money on TV ads in Sacramento to support Dan Lungren, in Fresno for Jeff Denham, and in San Diego to help Brian Bilbray hold onto his seat. 

Daniel Scarpinato with the Republican committee says three factors affect spending decisions: the quality of the candidate, poll numbers, and where Democrats are spending their money. He says the GOP is paying more attention to what is the other side is doing, "and how’s it going to affect our decisions."

Jesse Ferguson with the Democratic committee says redistricting has presented his party with an embarrassment of riches: "The map has changed and we have a tremendous number of opportunities across the state." It allows them to go on the offensive, targeting those same three Republican Congressmen the GOP wants to protect — Lungren, Denham, and Bilbray — plus try to unseat Mary Bono Mack in Palm Springs. (Story continues below video window.)

But Republicans have also stepped up their offensive game, targeting three Democratic incumbents: freshman Congressman John Garamendi near Sacramento, Jerry McNerney in the Central Valley and Lois Capps in Santa Barbara. 

Democrats are not spending party money to defend incumbents in those races — at least not yet. 

The Democratic committee is putting money into a Long Beach race for an open seat, backing Alan Lowenthal, who nosed out GOP challenger Gary Delong in the June primary by just three percentage points.

In two other open seats, dollars are pouring in from both sides. In Ventura County, the Republicans are sending money to Tony Strickland; Democrats to Julia Brownley. In the Inland Empire, the GOP is supporting John Tavaglione; the Democrats are backing Mark Takano. 

In addition to TV ads, Scarpinato says Republicans have found another effective way to get the video message out: advertise on the website Hulu: "You might reach more people on Hulu now than you might with a cable television buy."

Democrats are reserving TV time in Sacramento, as well as Palm Springs and even Los Angeles. But Ferguson says the party is putting a chunk of change on its ground game, getting voters to the polls. He stresses that it's a Democratic priority, "particularly in California because it’s not a state that President Obama has to spend a lot of his time and money to turn out the vote."

Of course, the combined $17 million — so far — from the Republican and Democratic committees isn’t the only money being spent on California races. Millions more are pouring in from political action committees. The flood of cash guarantees one thing: lots of TV ads for Congressional candidates dominating the screen for the final four weeks of the campaign.

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