Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., arrives early to talk with reporters during the Colorado Republican election night party at the Doubletree Hotel in Greenwood Village, Colo., Nov. 2, 2010.
Barry Gutierrez/AP

Republicans reach the ‘triage’ stage of the 2018 midterm election cycle


Ask party officials at the various campaign committees about their expectations in any given race, and in nearly every instance, you’ll hear a stock answer. If they expect to win, partisans will say something like, “_____ is running a great race, and we feel good about his/her chances.” If they expect to lose, they’ll say, “It’s an uphill climb, but we think _____ is going to surprise people on Election Day.”

It’s why I think it’s best not to even bother asking party officials what they expect to see happen. Instead, I find it far more useful to follow the money. Slate  reported yesterday:

In the past several weeks, House Republicans – either via the National Republican Congressional Committee, which serves as their official campaign arm, or the Congressional Leadership Fund, a big-dollar super PAC aligned closely with Paul Ryan – have nixed plans to spend big in defense of at least four incumbents in races that had been widely considered competitive: Reps. Mike Coffman in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, Mike Bishop in Michigan’s 8th, Keith Rothfus in Pennsylvania’s new 17th, and Kevin Yoder in Kansas’ 3rd.

TPM had a related report late last week, noting that these canceled ads from the NRCC and/or the CLF super PAC closely tied to the House Republican leadership come on the heels of similar cancelations in districts represented by Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and Rod Blum (R-Iowa).

At a certain level, this may seem like inside baseball, but for those keeping an eye on which party is well positioned in the midterms, I consider this one of the most important metrics for one key reason: ad buys reflect honest assessments in ways rhetoric does not.

Party committees and allied super PACs have a limited pool of resources at their disposal, and when they cancel ad buys in order to redirect funds elsewhere, it means one of two things: they’re either very confident their preferred candidate is going to win (in which case he or she doesn’t need the investment) or they’re very confident their preferred candidate is going to lose (in which case there’s no point in throwing good money after bad).

And since each of these ad cancellations has been announced in competitive districts in a year that’s looking pretty good for Democrats, it’s hardly a stretch to assume the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund are looking at assumed victories.

That’s why it’s known as the “triage” phase of the election cycle: with a month remaining – Election Day is 35 days away – and early voting underway in several states, Republicans are having to make difficult calls about races that have probably slipped away.

There’s no bluffing or spinning here. Republican officials are, in a rather literal sense, letting their money do the talking.

Postscript: It’s worth emphasizing, however, that Democrats shouldn’t get cocky about this, because occasionally, partisans reach the “triage” stage and get it wrong. A couple of years ago, for example, GOP leaders assumed Sen. Ron Johnson (R) would lose his re-election fight in Wisconsin, and started diverting resources accordingly, but the far-right senator managed to win anyway.