In this year of political hyperbole, it is no exaggeration to say that more House seats are poised to switch from one party to the other than in any election year in nearly half a century. Republicans need to net 39 slots to retake the majority, and in the final weeks before Election Day, the GOP has made a dramatic push to increase the pool of contested seats from 55 to nearly 100, a number not seen in more than a generation. About 90 of those are currently held by Democrats.
Persistent Democratic troubles in all regions of the country account for some of the explosion in competitive contests, but money has played a role as well. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), charged with helping elect House candidates, has raised enough cash--more than $54 million--to air TV ads in 90 races, far more than usual. The White House has been stunned by the flurry of last-minute spending by the NRCC, individual candidates and outside groups. In a few cases, GOP groups have dropped more than $1 million on individual House races that were, until just recently, barely on anyone's radar. In a typical House effort, that much dough can be decisive.
Though Democrats retained an edge in campaign cash overall, the unexpectedly heavy spending by Republicans has forced Democratic candidates, committees and their allies to dig deep to defend normally secure seats, spreading resources thin. By targeting longer-serving, once safe Democrats like South Carolina's John Spratt, the GOP has also kept Democratic veterans from passing donations along to junior colleagues who are in deeper trouble and depleted their coffers for the 2012 elections.
Republicans are positioning themselves to ride the latest political wave into the majority and beyond.