The biggest news of the 2012 presidential election on Tuesday wasn’t Rick Santorum dropping out of the Republican primary. It was American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC, launching television ads in six swing states hitting President Obama .
The Crossroads ads, which began airing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and Virginia and attack the incumbent for his handling of gas prices, are the first of what is expected to be an extended air assault on Obama by the conservative group.
“We think it’s important to be a counterweight to President Obama’s bully pulpit and hold him accountable for the policy choices he’s made and the results he’s failed to deliver,” said Steven Law, the executive director of American Crossroads. “Obama is putting the full muscle of the White House into changing the subject from his track record to a new, bleak vision of America — and we aim to keep the focus of the debate where it belongs.”
What makes Crossroads, which was founded by former Bush political adviser Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie in 2009, so potent is its demonstrated ability to raise huge amounts of money.
Formed as a super PAC, American Crossroads can raise unlimited sums from individual donors. By the end of February, the group had a whopping $23.6 million in its campaign coffers, more than eight times the $2.8 million that Priorities USA Action — the super PAC run by former White House aides — had on hand at that time. (By way of context, the latest Crossroads buy is for $1.7 million, roughly 60 percent of all the cash Priorities USA Action had on hand as of the end of February.)
What Crossroads’ fundraising heft means — particularly when coupled with the lack of a similar success on the Democratic side as of yet — is that the group is positioned to do the dirty work of pulling Obama’s numbers in swing states down over the next two to three months, while Romney works to rehab his image and move to the ideological center.
“The ad is terrible and basically just a love letter to the oil executives that bankroll them,” said one Democratic strategist about the latest Crossroads effort. “But they’ve got $1.7 million to write love letters, which is something Democrats should be very nervous about.”
The harsh reality for Democrats is that Crossroads can spend the next few months banging away at Obama in swing states, and the only way the incumbent can effectively answer those charges is to spend down his own precious cash stores — unless, of course, Priorities USA Action starts getting some big money and fast.
While few Democratic strategists dispute that basic fact, some question whether Crossroads’ ads will have an impact on an electorate that is already very divided.
“I’m not stupid enough to think that hundreds of millions in advertising is completely irrelevant, but if there were ever a politician who’s immune to this stuff, it’s Obama,” said longtime Democratic strategist Jim Jordan. “Love him or not, every single American knows him, knows everything about him, and has an opinion that’s not all that likely to be manipulated by super PAC activity.”
Whether Jordan is right remains to be seen. But regardless of the impact, it’s clear that the race — at least in the near term — is now between Obama and American Crossroads.
The next big races: After Santorum’s exit from the campaign, attention will now (deservedly) shift to downballot races — just, it so happens, as the congressional and state primary season is starting to kick off.
There aren’t any congressional primaries until late this month, but there are still some big time races ahead.
The next few months of the campaign are likely to be dominated by three races. First, there’s Sen. Richard Lugar’s (R-Ind.) primary on May 8, which he leads by the narrowest of margins, according to the most recent polling. And then there’s the recall of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on June 5 and the special election for former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s (D-Ariz.) seat on June 12.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) faces a state party convention vote on April 21, but he’s looking like a strong favorite at this point. In addition, Pennsylvania’s congressional primary on April 24 includes a couple incumbents that could be seriously endangered.
Assuming Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul doesn’t pick up steam for some reason in the next few weeks, attention and money should begin flowing to these contests in a hurry.
Arizona Senate candidate and former U.S. surgeon general Richard Carmona (D) raised $800,000 in the first quarter and had $1.1 million cash on hand at the end.
Rasmussen shows Elizabeth Warren (D) at 46 percent and Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) at 45 percent.
Attorney Ann McLane Kuster (D) raised $350,000 in the first quarter for her repeat bid against Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.).
Businessman Paul Hirschbiel (D) raises $325,000 to take on Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.).
Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.) raises $602,000 for his very tough district.
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who could face both a tough primary and general election, raises $316,000.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s a strong racial divide in polling on the Trayvon Martin controversy.
“What does Santorum’s future hold?” — Nate Silver, New York Times
“Why Santorum Decided To Call It Quits” — Michael Falcone, Shushannah Walshe and Arlette Saenz, ABC News
“Santorum followed a clever, emotional strategy to political resurrection” — Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post
“With Rick Santorum out of GOP presidential race, Mitt Romney shifts focus to Obama” — Dan Balz, Washington Post