While the presidential campaign commands the most attention, Senate Democrats are bearing an early television advertising assault by Republican-leaning groups that is reshaping those races.
Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, who is seeking a Senate seat, are being outspent by at least a 3-to-1 ratio on television advertising as super political action committees supporting Democrats struggle to raise money and President Barack Obama and the national party conserve resources for the fall election.
Brown and his allies have spent $2.5 million on television advertising, compared with the $8 million spent by such Republican groups as American Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, a tax-exempt organization that doesn’t disclose its donors, according to Democratic and Republican analysis shared with Bloomberg News.
“These individuals, these billionaires, realize that small numbers of people can have a huge impact,” Brown said in a telephone interview. “It’s very one-sided,” he said. “This outside money is bad for the system.”
The contrast is sharpest in Virginia, where Kaine supporters have spent $385,000, compared with $1.9 million by such groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The disparity could take a greater toll on House and Senate Democrats than on Obama because his re-election committee, which entered May with $115 million in cash on hand, is expected to have enough money to get its message out to voters and counter attacks.
“There’s so much oxygen being sucked up by the Obama campaign,” said Ken Goldstein, president of New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising. “Democrats are also not going to have the same kind of money that Republican outside groups are going to have.”
Both Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee have declined requests to transfer funds to their House and Senate party committees, according to the campaign and the DNC. They are also reluctant to do that as presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has shown early strength in fundraising.
In April, the first month Romney and the Republican National Committee were solely focused on raising funds for a general election, they raised $40 million, almost matching the $43.6 million that Obama and the DNC collected for the month.
Obama Withholds Cash
“Our top priority and focus is to secure the electoral votes necessary to re-elect the president,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, in an e-mail. “There’s no doubt that Democratic campaigns face a challenging new political landscape with special interests giving unlimited amounts to super-PACs.”
Since the start of the Ohio campaign, groups supporting Republicans, including the chamber, have run 9,414 ads either supporting the Republican nominee or attacking Brown while the incumbent Democrat and his allies have aired 3,322 spots, according to CMAG data.
Scott Reed, former campaign manager for then-Republican Senator Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential bid who now heads the chamber’s voter-education program, defended the advertising blitz, saying Brown and others will be held accountable for their support for the new health-care law. As for the uneven spending levels, he said it won’t matter in the end.
“It comes out in the wash at the end of the day in the sense that Obama is a ferocious fundraiser-in-chief,” Reed said. “There’s no question the pro-business and pro-growth groups are spending early and more aggressively than ever because they recognize the stakes of the election are so high.”
In Virginia, Crossroads GPS, which was formed with the help of Karl Rove, former political adviser to President George W. Bush, and the chamber have aired 1,980 ads, compared with the 380 spots run by the Democrat-backed Majority PAC on Kaine’s behalf.
One ad aired by Crossroads GPS says Kaine, as governor, built a “reckless” spending record that includes turning a $1 billion surplus into a $3.7 billion shortfall, an assertion disputed by independent fact-checking organizations.
According to Factcheck.org, “Kaine actually trimmed spending to balance the budget, as required by state law.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote in an April 25 blog posting that “In reality, Kaine worked with legislators to cut more than $5 billion to offset dwindling revenue and balance the budget.”
Jonathan Collegio, Crossroads’s spokesman, disputed the fact checkers’ conclusions. “Tim Kaine clearly turned a billion-dollar surplus into a 3 trillion shortfall,” he said in an e-mail.
Balanced Budget Required
Under the Virginia constitution, governors are required to balance the state budget annually and aren’t allowed to carry deficits.
The outside groups have the potential to influence House and Senate races because they’ll account for a greater share of total spending, said Anthony Corrado, a political scientist at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.
“By the fall there will be much more advertising by the candidates and the parties, but at this time they largely have the airwaves to themselves,” said Corrado.
The early assault isn’t confined to Virginia and Ohio.
In Missouri, Republican groups, including Crossroads GPS, have spent $5 million more on 8,903 television ads than the $2.3 million Democrats have put behind 2,535 in support of Senator Claire McCaskill’s re-election.
Republican John Brunner, a businessman who’s in a three-way primary with former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and Representative Todd Akin, has also aired ads critical of McCaskill.
In Florida, Republican Representative Connie Mack, who is also facing a primary challenge, and outside groups including the chamber have run 6,464 spots with no response from the Democratic incumbent, Senator Bill Nelson, or his supporters.
One ad sponsored by Mack’s campaign claimed Nelson supported spending tax dollars on research to see how monkeys react under the influence of cocaine. According to Politifact, “Mack’s claim is pretty bananas,” and is rated mostly false.
Nelson voted for large amounts of money for scientific research but never directly voted to send money for a study of monkeys on cocaine. The National Institutes of Health selected the project at North Carolina’s Winston-Salem College for a grant.
Another spot called “Nightmare,” which has run 2,337 times and is sponsored by the chamber, says 20 million people, including senior citizens on Medicare, could lose health-care coverage because of “Obamacare.” Politifact.com rated that claim “pants on fire,” its highest level of falsity.
--Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Robin Meszoly
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