Washington (CNN)The best way to know what the two parties believe an election is actually about is to look at what TV ads they are running in the most competitive races in the country. Why? Because ads cost money. And parties don't waste money on ads they don't think will work.
2018: The health care election
Which brings me to the latest numbers from the Wesleyan Media Project, an amazing effort to track the ads being run by candidates, party committees and super PACS in federal races in the 2018 midterms. And this very important conclusion:
"In the period between September 18 and October 15, nearly half (45.9%) of airings in federal races mentioned the topic while nearly a third (30.2%) of gubernatorial airings did the same. Although both parties are mentioning health care, the topic is most prominent in ads supporting Democrats, appearing in 54.5% of pro-Democratic airings."
Not only is health care the dominant issue on which TV ads are focused in this election, but it is also a MUCH bigger focus than it has been in past elections (during which, you'll remember, health care was a major issue!) This chart from Wesleyan gets at that comparison.
That a majority of all pro-Democratic ads that have run during this period touch on health care speaks to the fact that Democrats believe the issue, which played a central role in their disastrous results in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections, has turned into a good one for them.
That sense is borne out in polling; asked which party would do a better job in dealing with health care, 54% named Democrats in Congress while just 36% chose congressional Republicans in a CNN-SSRS poll earlier this month.
It's also borne out by the defensiveness of Republicans when it comes to health care -- starting with President Donald Trump. On Thursday afternoon, he tweeted:
"All Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions, and if they don't, they will after I speak to them. I am in total support. Also, Democrats will destroy your Medicare, and I will keep it healthy and well!"
The problem for Republicans -- at least those who were in the House or Senate over the last two years -- is that lots and lots of them voted for the full repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Which means they voted to get rid of the law's provisions that prevent insurance companies from refusing care to people with pre-existing conditions and that allow a child to stay on his or her parents' insurance until age 25. Those pieces of the bill were always VERY popular, and remain so. And most polling on the overall law suggests it has become more and more popular since President Barack Obama left office.
The Point: For all the talk of how this election will be about immigration or Russia or President Trump's bullying, following the (ad) money shows you the truth: This election is about your health care, and which party wants to protect it.