WASHINGTON – Eager to protect their politically vulnerable Senate leader, Democrats plan to sink more than $2 million into Harry Reid's home state of Nevada in the final weeks of the campaign, but have begun scaling back in Missouri where polls show their candidate trailing.
The adjustments, described by officials from both parties, come as Republican-leaning outside groups maintain a drumbeat of advertising in both states as well as in other key battlegrounds.
In the contest for control of the House, Republican-allied groups are planning a $50 million advertising drive, an extraordinary surge of spending aimed at keeping Democrats on the defensive.
Reid is trying overcome a strong re-election challenge from tea party-backed Republican Sharron Angle, who reported raising $14 million in the last three months. And the committee charged with electing Senate Democrats has reserved airtime to help Reid withstand a barrage of negative advertising from GOP-aligned groups, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they do not discuss strategy publicly.
Democrats also are spending considerably less than they had planned in Missouri this week, where Democrat Robin Carnahan is struggling in her race again Republican Rep. Roy Blunt. Democrats have cut airtime reservations for the state in the next two weeks, too, but they still could decide to run ads during that period.
The shifts in strategy illustrate the volatile nature of the political landscape in the closing days of the election. Candidates and outside groups are setting records for spending. In House contests, Republican-allied organizations are broadening the field by injecting money against House Democrats that the party had not counted as their most vulnerable.
The Democrats' chances of winning Senate seats currently held by Republicans in Missouri, Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire have dwindled. Polls show GOP candidates in the lead. Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky also is lagging Republican Rand Paul, but Senate Democrats still are spending money in the state. They say Conway still has a strong chance of winning.
That House effort by some of the GOP's top strategists comes amid a wave of new fundraising. American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, two affiliated groups formed this year with the help of operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, said Wednesday they raised more than $13.3 million in one week.
With candidates and outside groups seeking to command airspace, political advertising is setting new records this year. A new analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project at Wesleyan University in Connecticut shows that since Labor Day, ad spending on House and Senate races has reached nearly $200 million, up from $113 million for the same period in 2008.
Candidates account for most of the spending, but outside groups are second, devoting $37 million to House and Senate races. Republican leaning groups have outspent Democratic groups during that period by a margin on 9-1 in House and Senate contests, according to Michael Franz, a professor at Bowdoin College in Maine and co-director of the media project. House and Senate candidates have spent about $130 million, with Democrats outspending Republicans by a margin of 1.5 to one.
Facing an energized Republican electorate and the onslaught of outside money, Democrats are shifting TV ad money daily, reducing spending where polling shows their candidates lagging and ramping up in House and Senate races they think they have a better chance of winning. Democrats are not likely to pull all ads in a state, eager to avoid the perception that they have given up on a candidate. Moreover, they can always pour more money into a state if polls show a race tightening.
The spike in outside group money coincides with a consolidated attack by the White House, the Democratic Party and their liberal allies on Republican-leaning outside groups that have already spent millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates without having to disclose their donors.
Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said the influx of money means the two groups have raised $56 million this year. They set a new goal of raising $65 million.
The two Crossroads groups, which had focused on close Senate contests, now plans to spend $10 million on at least 15 House races. It also plans to add $5 million to its Senate spending. Collegio said the effort will combine with "like-minded groups" for an overall $50 million spike in House spending. The groups include the American Action Network, run by former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity, created by GOP lobbyist and strategist Scott Reed.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the new House spending strategy.
A Republican operative who tracks political advertising said the American Action Network was poised to spend about $13 million in more than 20 races.
The groups' spending also comes as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has supported mostly Republican candidates, increases its spending in the waning days of the campaign. The chamber has already spent more than $20 million on House and Senate races.
The first wave of Crossroads spending — about $2 million in eight House seats — is aiming mostly at seats that Democrats hope to salvage to avoid a Republican takeover of the House. Among the targets are Democratic Reps. Dan Maffei and Maurice Hinchey in New York, Zack Space in Ohio and Joe Donnelly in Indiana. In one of its few defensive forays, Crossroads is also going to buy ads to protect Republican incumbent Dan Lungren in California.
The American Action Network also will air ads against Donnelly and is broadening the field for Republicans by including such targets as Reps. Jim Himes and Christopher Murphy in Connecticut, Tim Walz in Minnesota, Charlie Wilson in Ohio and Gerry Connolly in Virginia, all of whom had not been counted as the most vulnerable Democrats.