House Majority PAC, a Democratic super political action committee, has never been afraid to spend money, but it has made a substantial strategy shift this year in a bid to bolster candidates facing tight midterm races.
Over the past decade the group has limited its involvement in off-cycle and pre-primary activity. As other outside PACs have grown more willing to broadcast creatives in the odd years (far in advance of the elections themselves), House Majority PAC has traditionally served to provide late support in tight races, providing a final push that Democratic campaigns seek in the months leading up to election day. That approach has changed in 2021.
On August 25, House Majority Forward, the 501(c)(4) non-profit affiliated with HMP that was created in 2019, began a broadcast blitz across 10 Democratic districts, including eight races anticipated to be among the most competitive. Targeted seats included Iowa's 3rd, Kansas' 3rd, Michigan's 8th, New Hampshire's 1st, Pennsylvania's 8th, Virginia's 2nd and Virginia's 7th, which all include a Democratic incumbent, at least until new congressional lines are drawn.
Each district received their own custom spot, built from the ground up with the politics of the area in mind (in stark contrast to the cookie-cutter ads that are often pumped out in the off-year). Within 24 hours House Majority Forward had spent $522,000 on the campaign push and broadcast the spots over 800 times.
Things really kicked off in February with a Q-Anon focused creative targeting House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. So far they have spent a commanding $1.4 million and aired the spots more than 2,500 times.
Exactly how unprecedented is this off-cycle spending? Digging back through House Majority Future and House Majority PAC’s broadcast output for 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2019, Kantar found 13 unique creatives aired by a House Majority entity. Ten of these were aired in the final moments of contentious special elections, while the three aired far in advance of the next midterm barely topped a combined spot count of 650. (Spot count is the specific number of times an ad is shown.) Non-special election broadcast spending in the last decade from HMP doesn’t even come close to breaking the amount spent so far in 2021.
To reiterate – the combined last decade of non-special election advertising in off-years from House Majority pales in comparison to just this year’s aggressive spending.
While this level of engagement from House Majority Forward is unprecedented, so too is the situation facing the Democratic Party. Super PACs are young, and political parties and organizations have spent the last decade iterating and experimenting with their implementation in elections. Additionally, Democrats are in full control of the elected federal government this cycle - their first time on full defense since the emergence of these groups in 2012. As opposing PACs have aired increasingly elaborate and expensive House campaigns in off-years, a response from House Majority Forward was inevitable.
Among those opposing PACs, few are more notable than American Action Network. The GOP-aligned group ran aggressive campaigns against Democratic candidates in 2017 and has continued targeting competitive seats in 2021. Just this past month, it launched a $2 million campaign targeting over a dozen Democratic races. From the opening weeks of February through last Thursday, AAN has poured a whopping $4.5 million into 16 different House districts across the country. Although liberal PACs less intimately associated with the leadership of the Democratic Party have been countering with campaigns of their own (the 501(c)(4) League of Conservation Voters, being a recent example), it was inevitable that a House Majority entity would eventually have to enter the fray themselves. Spending by one party often begets spending by the other.
For years, Super PACs have begun their broadcast campaigns in competitive districts earlier and earlier in the off season. And until this year, one of the most important Democratic Super PACs has resisted. As we enter another contentious midterm with millions of dollars already flying through competitive, newly-drawn districts, it's easy to see how the top races are going to be flooded with ads. Every seat matters in the fight for the House.