Liberal groups, by contrast, are focused more heavily on grass-roots organizing, led by labor unions that hope to spend more than $400 million to rally their members and nonunionized voters against likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other Republicans.
The differing strategies mean that voters, particularly in swing states, probably will be inundated with television advertisements attacking Obama well beyond whatever the Romney campaign airs. At the same time, many voters also will encounter swarms of canvassers handing out fliers and knocking on doors in support of Democrats.
Each side is banking on the idea that its approach will help shift the balance in what is shaping up to be a close-fought campaign.
The efforts underscore the prominent role that interest groups will play in the 2012 elections, when their spending could exceed $1 billion. For Democrats, unions are particularly crucial because liberal super PACs and nonprofit organizations have fallen far short of their conservative counterparts in fundraising.
The spending by interest groups comes on top of ambitious goals set by the Obama and Romney campaigns, each of which has suggested to donors that it could meet or exceed Obama’s record-setting haul of $745 million in 2008.
Groups on both sides also are taking full advantage of court rulings that have loosened limits on election activities. Well-funded conservative groups are attracting $10 million checks from wealthy financiers and corporations that are no longer restricted in their political giving. Labor organizations, meanwhile, have been able to cast away regulations that made it harder for them to fish for votes among nonunion households.
The contrast already is becoming clear in swing states such as Ohio, where the conservative group Crossroads GPS is blitzing the airwaves this month with TV ads attacking Obama’s energy policies. Labor-backed groups in the state, in the meantime, are focused on canvassing drives to register voters, support Democrats and push for the defeat of a proposed anti-union state ballot initiative.
“What we’re doing is much more grass-roots than what the other side is doing,” said Michael Gillis, a spokesman for the AFL-CIO of Ohio, which has about 600,000 members. “We have Ohio working people talking to Ohio working people about the issues. It’s a sharp contrast with the air war that the other side wages with their rhetoric and outside money financing the whole thing.”