The money could be particularly crucial in races below the national radar that can be easily influenced by infusions of outside spending. One example came this week in Nebraska, where a dark-horse Republican Senate candidate upset two better-funded rivals in the GOP primary thanks in part to a last-minute, $250,000 ad buy by a billionaire-backed super PAC.
And in Indiana this month, veteran Sen. Richard G. Lugar was ousted in the GOP primary by challenger Richard Mourdock with the help of millions of dollars in spending by conservative groups. The Club for Growth, which backed a losing candidate in Nebraska, spent more than $2 million to help Mourdock in Indiana.
“We’re just getting started,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller, who said the group will soon begin training its fire on Democrats. “Our group has already had an impact on what the composition of Congress is going to look like next year. That’s our whole goal is to have an impact, to improve the gene pool in Congress.”
While Democrats welcomed the unexpected chance to compete for the Indiana seat, many are increasingly worried about the threat posed in the fall by well-funded conservative groups.
Leading Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have stepped up their fundraising efforts in recent months on behalf of liberal-leaning super PACs, which can raise unlimited money but have fallen far short of matching their conservative opponents.
“The very reason our group was founded in the first place was to confront the flood of outside spending from the other side,” said Andrew Stone, a spokesman for House Majority PAC, a Democratic group focused on House contests. “Our donors understand the dynamics at play here. The pitch is, we saw what happened in 2010 in so many congressional districts where the Democrats were just totally overwhelmed.”
Interest groups on both sides have reported spending $29.7 million on congressional races so far this election cycle, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission reports.
The spending is more than twice the amount similar groups had spent at this point ahead of the 2008 elections. It’s also higher than the $25.2 million spent during the 2010 midterms, when several high-profile special elections and primary fights drove outside expenditures to new heights.
Spending among the largest groups favors Republicans by about 4 to 1, although that is due in part to a number of fierce Republican primary fights, the data show. GOP Senate primaries in Indiana and Texas, for example, have each drawn more than $4 million in spending by independent groups.
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