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As various components of President Biden’s agenda work through Congress, vulnerable Democrats are coming under increasing pressure from both sides. Three times as much outside money has been spent in August as was spent in July targeting House and Senate members. Most of this money is being spent by Democratic groups providing cover on the airwaves for vulnerable members making difficult votes, though Republican money attacking these same votes does not lag far behind. Overall, 2/3rds of the outside money in August has been targeting House districts vs. Senate seats.
The top 15 House districts targeted by outside money in August share some characteristics. Each seat is currently held by a Democrat and all seem to be vulnerable in 2022. In nearly every seat, both parties have invested in ad money, but Democrats have maintained an edge to various degrees. Future Forward has been the largest Democratic advertiser, running “Close Loopholes” which emphasizes the redistributive nature of the tax plan and how it will benefit the middle class. League of Conservation Voters has also been running ads across multiple congressional districts, emphasizing the clean jobs benefits of President Biden’s agenda. American Action Network has run ads across multiple districts attacking Democrat’s tax and spend policies, labeling the left’s plans as a socialist agenda.
Within the Senate, activity has revolved around a small group of competitive seats. Arizona, New Hampshire, and Nevada stand out as Democratically held seats where Republican groups are on the offensive. Democrats have provided cover for these members and are also going on their own offensive in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, representing two of their better pickup opportunities. Messaging has been more varied in the Senate than in the House. Healthcare and prescription drug pricing has been a major topic of ads, with groups like Coalition Against Socialized Medicine and One Nation backing these issues. Common Sense Leadership Fund is up in Arizona and New Hampshire with ads accusing Democrats of a “$3.5 Trillion Power Grab.”
Democrats have emphasized tax inequalities in their messaging in GOP-held Senate states. Groups such as MoveOn and Tax March have both run ads touting Biden’s plan to “Make the rich pay their fair share.” League of Conservation Voters, however, is running ads in Democratically held states connecting clean energy to job growth. Other groups, such as Building Back Together, tout the bipartisan accomplishments of the administration in improving infrastructure and creating jobs.
While we are still in the early days of the 2022 campaign cycle, a few trends are already beginning to emerge. Republicans are setting up lines of attack against Democratic priorities, especially in the House. Democrats are spending heavily to provide air-cover for their vulnerable members but might be facing a battle to defend votes that could be politically difficult. The math looks a bit different in the Senate, but Republicans currently seem to be more concerned with attacking Democratic incumbents than defending their own seats, which may be interpreted as a sign of confidence.
A wide variety of messages are circulating across the airwaves as both parties look for what topics resonate with voters. One factor to watch is whether the situation in Afghanistan becomes a major subject of advertising as public support for the withdrawal rapidly declines. Foreign policy has been an underrepresented subject of political ads over the last few cycles, but it looks like it could be a major factor in the 2022 midterms. The political landscape changes so rapidly that current trends may not be relevant by Election Day. But the subject of political ads, and which districts certain messages are targeting, can provide interesting insight into what topics the parties are betting on for general election competitions.