WASHINGTON Starting a $75 million national advertising blitz, both parties' House campaign arms on Tuesday began running television spots that are not expected to relent before November's elections.
In New York and New Jersey, the Democratic Congressional Committee began spending $2.3 million on ads in districts represented by Republicans. In Florida, the National Republican Congressional Committee started what will be a $1.7 million campaign to defend Rep. Steve Southerland, who risks being voted out of Congress after two terms.
The early spending is only expected to escalate as voters start paying closer attention to elections. Democrats face a steep climb in their bid to oust House Republicans from their majority. Despite long odds, donors have helped Democrats outraise the National Republican Congressional Committee in 16 of the last 18 months and build a mountain of campaign cash to spend on ads against Republicans.
Democrats' campaign arm has asked television stations to set aside $44 million in ad time. Republicans' have booked more than $30 million. Both numbers are likely to change as strategists add or nix districts as they become more competitive or slip from reach.
The tone of the first committee ads, of course, was decidedly negative.
"Michael Grimm. Can you believe this guy?" asks the Democrats' ad against the two-term incumbent Republican facing criminal charges. The 30-second ads are expected to stay on New York City cable stations through Oct. 13, at a cost of almost $1 million.
As black-and-white video of Grimm plays, audio from news reports about his criminal troubles play in the background. "The Republican has been indicted by the feds," NBC anchor Brian Williams says in the ad.
Grimm is accused of evading taxes and hiding more than $1 million in sales and wages from a small Manhattan restaurant. He has been indicted on 20 criminal counts.
The Staten Island lawmaker and former FBI agent has pleaded not guilty. He says he's the target of a political smear campaign aimed at driving him out of office.
National Republicans have largely conceded the seat to Democrats. The National Republican Congressional Committee has not booked airtime to defend Grimm and was silent on Tuesday's anti-Grimm ad.
By contrast, the NRCC called Democrats' ad against its nominee in south-central New Jersey "despicable and slanderous."
Republican Rep. Jon Runyan, a former professional football player, declined to seek a third term in the House. His exit sets up one of just a handful of truly competitive races in the country.
Burlington County official Aimee Belgard is one of national Democrats' favorite candidates, and the DCCC is spending $1.3 million on ads through Election Day. The DCCC never mentions Belgard's name in the first 30-second ad and instead focuses its criticism on the Republican nominee, Tom MacArthur, and his time running a division of insurance giant AIG.
"MacArthur ran an insurance company accused of cheating hurricane and wildfire victims," the narrator said. "In Congress, MacArthur wants to help insurance companies jack up rates and deny people coverage."
The accusations about hurricane insurance are particular tough along the New Jersey coastline, which is still recovering from 2012's Hurricane Sandy. But MacArthur stepped down as chairman and CEO of York Risk Services Group in 2010 and had nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy claims.
Republicans have booked almost $2 million in the Philadelphia media market, which reaches into the New Jersey congressional district. There are three competitive House races in that market and some of the ads are set to help MacArthur.
In Florida, Republicans began their own 30-second ads criticizing Gwen Graham, Democrats' nominee to face Southerland and the daughter of former Sen. Bob Graham. Voters in that ad say Graham would not repeal Democrats' health care law, which they call "Obamacare," and would back Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
"Gwen Graham talks about the north Florida way," one voter says. "She sure acts the D.C. way," another adds.
Republicans are expected to hold onto their House majority after November's elections in large part to congressional redistricting that left few districts competitive. Republicans hold 234 seats and Democrats have 199. There are two vacancies.