Democratic strategists acknowledged they are abandoning a dozen House seats the party now holds, as they try to salvage their majority in the chamber by shoring up candidates with better chances.
With Republicans expanding their advertising to broaden the field of competitive races, Democrats are shifting resources to help such senior lawmakers as House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D., S.C.), and to head off Republicans in usually safe Massachusetts, where a southeast district that includes Cape Cod is competitive for the first time in decades.
The emerging battlefield, two weeks before Election Day, is almost entirely in districts now held by Democrats. It includes about 40 districts where both the Republican and Democratic House campaign arms are running television ads or have reserved TV time.
Beyond those, Republicans are on the air in a dozen additional districts, while Democrats are running ads in two. Republicans need a net gain of 39 seats to win a majority in the House.
"The field is essentially expanding by the day," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the GOP's House campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee.
A survey of voters in competitive House districts released Friday reinforced the point that Democrats face a tough road. The poll, for National Public Radio, found that in 58 Democratic-held battleground districts, 47% of likely voters preferred the Republican for Congress in their district, while 44% preferred the Democrat, a three percentage-point gap. The Republican lead was larger among voters with high levels of interest in the election. The GOP edge had been eight points in June.
The retrenching now under way happens in every election and is typically painful for the party running behind. Democrats are loath to admit that they are cutting off any of their candidates, but two Democrats familiar with the election strategy said that about a dozen seats now held by the party are lost. Ad-tracking data show that none of these districts is slated to receive party-funded TV ads.