After a summer spent chasing voters with millions of dollars in television ads, some of the biggest spenders in politics have settled on eight Senate races for a final flurry before Election Day.
The groups, which include the Crossroads network backed by former George W. Bush strategist Karl Rove and each party's official Senate re-election effort, have placed orders for more than $80 million in television ads between now and Election Day. Operatives on both sides say that number could grow.
At the moment, the spending favors Democrats by about $10 million. The party is fighting to keep control of the Senate for the final two years of President Barack Obama's time in office, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Senate Majority PAC placed ad buys months ago, fueled by donors who want to see Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid remain majority leader.
The final rush of television ad spending will come on top of the tens of millions of dollars the candidates themselves, along with race-specific super PACs and labor unions, also have at the ready to spend in the final weeks of the campaign.
But the choice of these eight states suggests donors and the people who court them believe this is where Republicans have the best chance to pick up the net total of six seats they need to win control of the Senate.
The Associated Press reviewed the state-by-state advertising buys of 10 of the best known and most feared outside groups. In all, they'll spend about $200 million this year through Election Day, Nov. 4.
With a little over a month to go, three of the groups are stopping spending on Senate ads. The remaining organizations plan to spend $83 million, with $81.5 million coming in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina and New Hampshire.
Democratic incumbents in six of those states are in tight races, and Democrats are trying to keep a seat in the other two.
"More things can go wrong for the Democrats than can go wrong for Republicans," Democratic strategist James Carville said this week. "And that's never a kind of playing field that you want to enter a cycle like this."
Noticeably absent from the ad plans is Americans for Prosperity, one piece of the political operation of the conservative Koch brothers. The group spent more than $25 million on television ads in the eight states earlier this year but since has shifted its focus to getting out the vote. Because the group does not disclose its finances, it is impossible to know how much it plans to spend on that effort.
Topping the list of the planned spending by the top outside groups is North Carolina, where Democratic groups enjoy an almost 2-1 margin in ads booked to support incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan against her Republican challenger, state House Speaker Thom Tillis.
In the final weeks of that close race, voters in North Carolina should brace for at least $19 million in television ads from just four of those outside groups alone. Spending by the candidates and other outside parties will send the price tag on race surging far past the $41 million already spent.
It's similar to the situation in Iowa, where $13.7 million is coming from five outside groups looking to have a hand in deciding whether Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley moves his office from the House side of the Capitol to the Senate side, or whether Republican state legislator Joni Ernst moves to Washington.
Colorado comes next, with five committees planning $13.1 million so far. About $6.5 million is already booked by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Majority PAC, which is run by some of Reid's former aides.
"This is the Senate race that will decide who controls the United States Senate: Barack Obama and Harry Reid or common-sense conservative Republicans," Republican Rep. Cory Gardner told supporters Thursday as he campaigned to oust Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado.
The Rove-backed Crossroads GPS and its super PAC, American Crossroads, are the top GOP spenders in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina. At least $16.3 million in ad time is booked there, a figure that's expected to increase.
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