WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats' high hopes of mitigating House losses in a rough election year have been dashed by reality.
The question now is not whether Republicans hold the House — that's a given. Rather, it's how many seats could the GOP add to its majority on Election Day? And how close could it get to its post-World War II high of 246 in Harry S. Truman's administration?
Three weeks to Nov. 4, the House outlook remains bright for the GOP as national Democrats bail on once-promising opportunities in Virginia and Colorado, canceling television advertising to shift money to efforts to save vulnerable incumbents in Democratic-leaning states such as California and Illinois. Democrats also are transferring some of the cash to races where they stand a better chance.
President Barack Obama's dismal approval ratings and midterm malaise have been a drag on Democrats, but the situation grew bleaker as Republican-leaning outside groups such as American Crossroads and American Action Network started pumping in millions of dollars targeting Democratic lawmakers.
Democrats cut $2.8 million in spending in northern Virginia, where John Foust faces state Del. Barbara Comstock in a seat that Republican Frank Wolf has held for 34 years. The party also scaled back its spending in the Denver suburbs by $1.4 million despite its high expectations that former state House speaker Andrew Romanoff could upend three-term Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in a district with a growing Hispanic population.
Democrats have raced to rescue freshman Rep. Ami Bera in the Sacramento, California, suburbs as he tries to fend off a challenge from former Republican Rep. Doug Ose, and shore up first-term Rep. Bill Enyart in his southwest Illinois race against state Rep. Mike Bost. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's struggle in his re-election bid is making life tough for Enyart and another freshman, Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider.
"This is a challenging climate, but we're not looking at 2010," insisted Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Every Democratic incumbent is either winning or tied and we have solid opportunities to win in Republican-held districts across the country."
Republicans hold a 234-201 edge in the House, counting Eric Cantor's onetime Richmond, Virginia-area seat — which the GOP is expected to win — and two vacant Democratic seats, one in New Jersey, the other in North Carolina.
The Republican rout of 2010, marked by tea party anger toward Obama and the health care law, cost Democrats 63 seats. Those gains make the universe of competitive races much smaller this election — around two dozen.
Democrats have legitimate shots at defeating Republicans Lee Terry in Nebraska and Steve Southerland in Florida while capturing open seats in California, Iowa and Arkansas, according to Republicans and Democrats closely following the campaigns. Two-term Republican Rep. Michael Grimm is still considered a favorite in New York despite his 20-count indictment on federal tax evasion charges.
The Democratic-leaning House Majority PAC announced Monday it was spending some $91,000 in Omaha, targeting Terry for his comments about keeping his salary during last year's government shutdown.
Republicans count open seats in Utah and North Carolina as easy pick-ups, and are bullish in upstate New York, where three-term Democratic Rep. Bill Owens is retiring and Democrats have cut spending. Party officials give the edge to Republican Elise Stefanik, a former aide in George W. Bush's White House who, if elected, would be the youngest member of Congress at age 30.
Beyond those races, the Republicans have a long list of potential seats that they could pick up, including one in West Virginia, where 19-term Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall is trying to survive a GOP wave. Republicans are also optimistic about two seats in Arizona, a San Diego-area seat in California and a suddenly competitive open seat in Maine.
In Syracuse, New York, Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei will get some campaign help next Monday from Vice President Joe Biden, who will attend a get-out-the-vote rally for the two-term congressman. The GOP also has made Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop, who has been in office for 12 years, a top target in eastern Long Island.
"It's very clear the playing field is in Obama's districts," said Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Republicans are also keeping close watch on races in Hawaii and other contests in Iowa that could be potential pick-ups.
Last-minute spending has forced both parties to shift money in what amounts to a constant chess game of move and countermove. In New Hampshire, the anti-tax Club for Growth announced Monday that it would spend $750,000 on a campaign ad criticizing first-term Rep. Ann Kuster, a Democrat facing a challenge from Marilinda Garcia.