Democratic contenders, because of the party's successes at raising money so far, will make the first big buys. The most significant at the moment is a $35 million "hold" by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for time in September and early October in 31 congressional districts in 22 states.
The biggest beneficiaries include TV stations serving Florida, Arizona, Indiana and Ohio and cable operators in New Jersey.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has also made more than $15 million in buys in North Carolina, New Mexico, Minnesota and Maine, with the buys in Maine and North Carolina exceeding $5 million each. A committee official declined to comment.
More buys are likely coming. Democrats say 75 to 80 House races will be competitive this time, vs. 47 two years ago. On the Senate side, the GOP has 23 senators up this time vs. 12 two years ago; 10 races are considered competitive by both sides.
This year's buying has started unusually early, say political professionals. That's partly because the Democratic party has more cash on hand and wanted to flex its muscle early on.
Committee Chairman Rep. Chris Van Hoellen D-Md., "has said from the start we would aggressively be on the offense and work to expand the playing field," said Doug Thornell, a committee spokesman. He said the aggressiveness reflects work done to recruit good candidates, and "a slew of Republican retirements provided us with a more opportunities than we can currently afford."
The committee's House Insider newsletter in July said its initial goal of targeting 35 GOP seats while trying to protect 40 Democratic seats has grown more expansive.
"House Democrats will continue turning up the heat on Republicans and will stay on the offense all the way up to Election Day," the newsletter said.
The Democratic committee had a more than $40 million cash advantage over its GOP counterpart at the end of May. The National Republican Congressional Committee has yet to buy time, though it too is planning to reserve time early for this fall, suggest GOP officials.
Democrats also have a cash advantage on the Senate side.
As of the end of May, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has raised $70 million, compared with $44.2 million for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Democrats launched ads in Mississippi last week and were on the air earlier this year in Oregon. Besides North Carolina, Maine, Minnesota and New Mexico, other likely battleground states include Colorado, Alaska, Kentucky and possibly Kansas or Texas.
Two years ago Republicans spent about $21.6 million compared with $38.5 million by the Democrats.
"At the end of the day, the current spending is a floor, not a ceiling," predicted Evan Tracey, who tracks campaign ad spending for TNSMI's Campaign Media Analysis Group. "This does two things. It flexes muscle -- it's got to demoralize Republicans and excite Democrats -- and it locks in price."
Mr. Tracey is predicting that political advertising this cycle will top $3 billion for everything, with the advertising for the presidential race alone now approaching $270 million. The McCain and Obama campaign each spent about $20 million since locking up their party's nomination, with the Obama campaign spending not only on traditional battleground states but to run ads in North Carolina, Georgia, Montana, Alaska, Indiana and Virginia, all of which have gone Republican in recent years.