DCCC launches digital ads to protect vulnerable incumbents

Aaron Navarro

Just after the House passage of a bill aiming to lower prescription drug costs, the House Democratic campaign arm announced a digital ad buy about health care in competitive districts. Its string of Facebook ads is running in 42 districts where the party's "Frontline" — or most vulnerable members — are based, as well as in 26 Republican districts. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's modest five-figure digital ad buy is its first set of advertisements in battleground districts since the impeachment process began, after millions has been spent by GOP groups on anti-impeachment ads to pressure Democratic voters.

The DCCC's advertising is keeping its distance from impeachment and embracing healthcare, which it says is the foremost issue on the minds of voters. Each of the spots highlights Thursday's passage of the drug cost bill, named for the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, or criticizes specific Republicans for voting against it. 

"I have to tell you I have a very big district, 7,000 square miles. And what I hear most often — it's not impeachment, it's not what's on the front page of the Washington Post. It's what are you going to do about the cost of our prescription drugs? And this bill is an answer to my constituents," freshman Democrat Kim Schrier of Washington said Thursday morning. 

Meanwhile, Republicans have been using impeachment as the crux of their advertisement messaging. The American Action Network (AAN) has been one of the biggest spenders and said the group has dropped over $8.5 million for advertisements and specifically, $2 million on digital ads. Their ads target 30 Democrats in swing-state seats, all in districts President Trump won in 2016. 

"Tell Rep. Joe Cunningham to work on issues we care about. Stop this partisan charade. Vote NO on impeachment," one Facebook ad reads.

So far, at least seven of the 31 Democrats in districts Mr. Trump won in 2016 have said they will vote in support of the impeachment articles next week.  

AAN spokesperson Calvin Moore said the group's messaging on impeachment will not be affected by the passage of the drug cost bill or the potential passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. 

"Everything else the left tries to do right now is basically a tree falling in a forest when no one is around to hear it. Turn on the news — the only thing getting wall-to-wall coverage is impeachment. When you take up something this toxic, it totally overshadows everything else," he said.

poll conducted by the group in three districts show that at least 64 percent of respondents in each district have seen, read or heard coverage of their member and the impeachment. 

But Democratic aides point to consistent national polling on impeachment to argue that the GOP ads aren't creating any big differences in opinion for voters, and they say most constituents tend to "tune out" the political noise. 

Still, some other outside Democratic groups are hoping to close the spending gap between them and GOP groups like American Action Network and the pro-Trump America First Policies PAC. For two weeks in October, the House Majority Forward PAC put $3 million in television and digital ads for House Democrats in 15 districts, talking up legislation House Democrats have worked on. 

This week, presidential candidate and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg donated $10 million to the House Majority PAC to help support House Democrats in swing-state districts. He previously spent $110 million in 2018.

Representative Josh Harder of California is one of the DCCC "Frontline" members with the new ads running. He said he fulfilled a promise to cut health care costs by voting to pass the drug cost bill, and he's happy people will hear about it through the ads.  

"In the 18 town halls I've held this year, I've heard ten times as much about health care as impeachment. People in my district care about the challenges they face every day- like ridiculous health care costs — more than the Washington melodrama," he said.

Correction: The final quote of the story was mistakenly attributed to Representative Tom O'Halleran of Arizona. It was Representative Josh Harder who said he would be happy with the ads.

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