New wave of attack ads shows Democrats on offense, Republicans on defense

Washington (CNN)The DCCC and the NRCC -- each party's main congressional campaign committee -- combined to release more than 20 new ads this week amid the intensifying battle for the House of Representatives, with a range of targets and messages reflecting their opposing strategic priorities in the final month of the midterm elections.

On the Democratic side, the committee is on offense, releasing new attack ads in a slew of races against vulnerable GOP incumbents, and also a key open seat race in New Mexico's 2nd district. Among those targeted: CO-06, ME-02, VA-10, OH-01, NM-02, NJ-07, IL-13, and KY-06. The DCCC is also going up with their first ads in PA-16, NC-02 and WV-03 this week.
Some of the ads hammer GOP incumbents as out of touch with their constituents, such as the ads against Rep. Steve Chabot (OH-01) -- "career politician" -- or Rep. Rodney Davis (IL-13) -- "being in Congress changes people." It's a key message in a range of Democratic pick-up opportunities against vulnerable Republican incumbents, particularly those in districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Other new ads touch on the Democrats' central message this cycle, health care, and in particular, insurance coverage of preexisting conditions. In Maine, the DCCC's new spot criticizes Rep. Bruce Poliquin for supporting Republicans' attempt to repeal Obamacare in 2017: "Would he take protections away for people with pre-existing conditions? Yes," says the narrator. In a Republican-held seat in Colorado that CNN rates as leaning Democratic, the DCCC's ad hits Rep. Mike Coffman with a similar charge: "Coffman voted to end protections for pre-existing conditions."
    In Virginia's 10th district, a Republican-held seat that CNN rates as leaning Democratic, the DCCC hits Comstock primarily for supporting President Donald Trump: "Which Virginia member of Congress votes the most with Donald Trump? Barbara Comstock. She voted with Trump 97.8% of the time."
    DCCC national press secretary Tyler Law spoke to Democratic messaging priorities in a statement to CNN: "Democratic candidates and the DCCC have been laser focused on exposing Republican votes to increase the cost of healthcare and defining the Republican tax scam as a massive handout to large corporations and the very rich, that will lead to deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare."
    Health care and anti-Trump messaging are the top two TV ad messaging themes from Democrats this cycle. According to Kantar Media/CMAG data, Democratic campaigns and outside groups have spent the most on health care ads -- $62.3 million across all House races -- and the second most on anti-Trump ads, $28.5 million, in 2018.
    And the Virginia race and Colorado races are both among the DCCC's top overall targets this cycle. According to Kantar Media/CMAG, and including future ad reservations, the committee has spent just over $3 million in VA-10, its third-most, and nearly $2.4 million in CO-06, its sixth-most.
    On the Republican side, the NRCC's targeted districts show a party on both offense and defense, but focusing on protecting existing members rather than expanding their majority.
    Among the districts targeted by new NRCC ads this week: AZ-02, MI-08, MN-01, MN-02, MN-03, NJ-03, NM-02, PA-01, TX-07, VA-02, VA-10, WA-08, and NY-19.
    Minnesota is a key battleground state in these midterms, with a quartet of House races -- MN-01 and MN-08, open seats CNN rates as tossups, and MN-02 and MN-03, Republican-held seats CNN rates as leaning Democratic -- seen by strategists on both sides as bellwethers. Three of those races, in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts, were hit by new NRCC spots. Republicans are putting more money behind protecting their incumbents.
    Two of the ads, targeting challengers Angie Craig in MN-02 and Dean Philips in MN-03, hit on a countervailing message for Republicans in 2018: While Democrats hammer Republican incumbents as out of touch and seize on their policy records through votes, Republicans, confronted with a wave of first-time, outsider Democratic challengers, are seeking to define their opponents as unqualified or unethical, sifting through their biographies or business records. That's reflected in these Minnesota spots, which both focus on citations and lawsuits against businesses run by Craig and Phillips.
    The NRCC also released ads in a pair of Virginia races, where they are defending Rep. Scott Taylor (VA-02) and Comstock.
    In the 2nd district, which CNN rates as a tossup, the NRCC's spot accuses Democrat Elaine Luria of backing a "government takeover of health care," over the image of a shark fin slicing through misty water.
    The 10th district ad has a more local focus, criticizing Democrat Jennifer Wexton over Northern Virginia road tolls (Wexton served on the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission during her time in the state senate).
    Two other NRCC ads hit on another key GOP messaging theme -- taxes. In PA-01, targeting Scott Wallace, and TX-07, targeting Lizzie Fletcher, ads criticize the Democrats for supporting higher taxes. According to Kantar Media/CMAG data, taxes have been the top TV advertising theme in GOP campaign and outside group ads in US House races, with just over $29 million in spending.
      NRCC communications director Matt Gorman commented on the new ads in a statement to CNN: "The NRCC's fall ad offensive has put Democrats on defense and are holding them accountable for their far-left positions. We're spending aggressively and defending our members and seats across the country."
      Many of the districts targeted in the NRCC's latest wave of ads are among the committee's most expensive races by TV advertising for the entire cycle. Including future ad reservations, those targets include: VA-10, in first, MI-08, in third, PA-01, in fourth, MN-01 and MN-02, in sixth and seventh, and WA-08, in eighth.