WASHINGTON (AP) — With House Democrats struggling to avoid becoming an even smaller minority, the head of their campaign effort chided their outside allies Wednesday for trimming support for the party's House candidates and issued an eleventh-hour plea for more help.
"It is frustrating that the cavalry that has always been there doesn't seem to be there," Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., told reporters. "My point is that we still have 20 days, and that's an eternity for outside groups to mount up the cavalry and get them to the hill."
Israel's comments came less than three weeks from an Election Day in which Republicans seem certain to retain control of the House and could well expand their 234-201 advantage. Israel is chairman of the House Democrats campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Though he named no specific groups, Israel's remarks were a rare public rebuke by a leader of his party's own supporters. They also seemed designed to prod Democrats' environmental, women's rights, labor and other liberal backers to step up their activity in time for the Nov. 4 voting.
House Democrats' efforts to attract outside spending have been complicated by a stark political reality — donors realize that the party has little chance to capture the House even as it fights to retain control of the Senate in a state-by-state duel with Republicans.
Reflecting that, spending by outside groups to aid House Democratic candidates has dropped compared to the same period in the 2012 campaigns, according to data provided by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Those groups' expenditures for Senate Democrats have mushroomed over the same period, the center said.
Outside groups are allowed to spend unlimited sums on advertising and other activities backing or opposing a candidate, as long as they don't coordinate with the candidates. There are also curbs on coordination with party leaders like Israel.
Democrats are bracing for what Israel predicted will be "a tsunami" of spending by outside groups that back Republicans, including former Bush adviser Karl Rove's American Crossroads, the Chamber of Commerce and conservative organizations aided by the wealthy Koch brothers.
"It's more of a challenge than we would want it to be," Israel said of his party's problems with outside spending. "Outside groups have always played a fundamentally important role in supporting our candidates."
A spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee contested Israel's comments.
"Democrats aren't losing because of outside groups," said Andrea Bozek. She added, "They're losing because their policies are not popular."
Excluding expenditures by party organizations, outside groups have reported spending $37.6 million to help House Democratic candidates in next month's elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That's nearly $14 million less than the groups spent to assist House Democrats at this same point in the 2012 races, said the center, which tracks political spending.
Spending by those same groups for Senate Democrats so far this year is $164 million — $71 million more than it was at this stage in 2012, the center said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had spent $5.8 million for House Democrats to date in 2012, compared to $300,000 this election cycle, the center said.
The Service Employees International Union had spent $4.6 million for House Democrats so far in 2012 but about $800,000 so far in the current campaign, the center said.
Spokespeople for the two labor organizations did not immediately return messages requesting comment.
The League of Conservation Voters spent around $1.7 million to help Democrats to date in 2012, compared to around $330,000 this cycle, the center said. A spokesman for the environmental group said that was a conscious choice because the Democratic-led Senate has scuttled House-approved bills that the league opposes.
"We made a strategic decision early on to protect our pro-environment firewall in the Senate," said league spokesman Jeff Gohringer. "That's something that hangs in the balance."
Israel's DCCC has reported spending $42 million to back its candidates so far this campaign, compared to $33 million for the rival NRCC.
In New Orleans, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 3 House Republican, said the GOP is seeing greater opportunities to win Democratic-held seats in states including Illinois, California, New York and New Hampshire. He said his party is trying to boost its majority to 245 seats.
"Most of our incumbents are doing really well," Scalise told members of the National Federation of Independent Business. "There's a small number that are in a tight races. But in terms of how many seats we can actually flip, there's a wide playing field."
Associated Press writer Donna Cassata in New Orleans contributed to this report.