Campaign Intelligence: Conservative money plays catch up


After a costly season of primary campaigns in which hardline conservative groups often found themselves at odds with establishment players and the national GOP party committees, outside and inside dollars are coalescing behind Republican nominees in Senate races in Alaska, Iowa and Michigan — the three states that have seen the most outside spending over the past week according to Real-Time FEC data.

With nearly all primary results in the books, donors and party operatives on both sides are shifting their focus — and checkbooks — to the general election. Each competitive Senate race looms large as the Republican party eyes a potential path to flipping the Senate.

Democratic candidates didn’t see anywhere near the same amount of friendly fire that Republican candidates faced, a Sunlight analysis of independent expenditure data found. The few liberal on liberal attacks seen in the primaries were largely products of the personal policy agendas of megadonors Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer. With the exception of Bloomberg’s Independence USA, most liberal-leaning heavy hitters have been aiming their electoral ammo at presumptive Republican nominees.

The chart below shows the top three contests by outside spending, as well as the sum of the previous week’s outside spending in those races. The Michigan Senate battle recently shot to the top of ‘priciest’ thanks to a new $1.5 million investment in that race from Steyer’s NextGen Action. A recent television ad from that group slams the “billionaire polluter Koch brothers” for spending millions to elect Terri Lynn Land, the GOP nominee, so that “she’ll let them keep polluting.”

Chart from Real-Time showing the most expensive elections this week by outside spending. They are: the Senate races in Alaska, Iowa and North Carolina
Click the chart for more detailed information; Image: Real-Time FEC

Meanwhile, with little over a month left until the general election, national party committees are shifting into high gear, fêting candidates at Washington fundraisers and gobbling up air time at local stations across the country. Local ad data from the Des Moines-Ames market, collected by Sunlight’s Political Ad Sleuth, show a serious ramping up of broadcast attacks in the race for Iowa’s open Senate seat. Contracts show the NSRC has agreed to purchase nearly $500,000 worth of broadcast time in that market since July, while the DSCC has snatched around $950,000 worth of ad time.

The candidates are also upping their games. Invitations collected by Sunlight’s Political Party Time project show that Joni Ernst, the Republican nominee in Iowa, and Rep. Bruce Braley, the Democrat, have both been making the rounds at high dollar fundraisers in the beltway in preparation of a close general election.

They’ve been traveling east while politicians with presidential aspirations have been racking up frequent flier miles going the other way, stumping and chowing down at famous steak fries.

You can follow ad spending data in your local markets with Ad Sleuth to see ad blitzes before they land and learn how committees’ focus is shifting from week to week.