Outside Cash Will Keep GOP Flush in Final Weeks

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 15, 2010 · 10:04 AM EDT

When you’re short on cash, spending more isn’t usually the best idea. But for national Republicans, an aggressive program of early spending helped soften the Democratic landscape for the current GOP surge.

And now, a coalition of outside groups has announced a massive spending plan that could allow Republicans to compete dollar for dollar in the final weeks of the campaign.

“We knew Democrats, theoretically, had a funding advantage,” said GOP media consultant Brad Todd of OnMessage Inc.

Throughout the election cycle, the National Republican Congressional Committee trailed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in available money by at least a 2-to-1 ratio. In addition, Democratic incumbents stockpiled cash against GOP challengers who were underfunded or whose campaign accounts were depleted by competitive primaries.

Republicans faced some critical spending decisions.

“We had a fundamental belief from the beginning of the cycle to make the playing field larger,” said Todd, who is the lead consultant for the NRCC’s independent expenditure unit. “We had to get candidates in position with NRCC money to get them closer in the polls.”

Last year, the NRCC bought radio ads during recess against longtime incumbents such as Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) in an effort to encourage retirements or embolden strong challengers.

Then, over the past few weeks, the NRCC bought television ads attacking relatively secure incumbents such as Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) in an attempt to lower their poll numbers and drag those districts into the top tier of competitive races.

Like the spending last year, going out early was a risky strategy since the NRCC has now spent almost half of its money with three weeks to go before the elections.

“We took a calculated risk by outspending the DCCC for the last seven weeks. We knew that we would likely get outspent in the last week, maybe two, but our goal was to light up the Democrats early, drive up their negatives by taking advantage of the environment and plan to remain competitive in the final days,” according to an NRCC official. “Voters are making their minds up now, and we wanted to make an impact before the real clutter of thousands of campaign ads hit in the final two weeks.”

Now it looks like Republicans will get reinforcements from a collection of GOP outside groups — including American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, American Action Network, and the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity — which announced it will spend an additional $50 million on House races, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The groups plan to spend in races such as Colorado’s 7th, where Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) held a dramatic cash advantage over his challenger; New York’s 22nd, where Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) is new to the list of vulnerable incumbents; and Indiana’s 2nd, where Rep. Joe Donnelly (D) looked like he was pulling away.

In addition to those districts, Crossroads plans to be on television by Friday in California’s 3rd district, New York’s 20th and 25th, Ohio’s 18th, Florida’s 22nd and Hawaii’s 1st, according to a spokesman for the group.

There is some doubt on both sides of the aisle on whether the $50 million will materialize, but if it occurs, the spending would be unprecedented in its size and scope.

In 2006, MoveOn.org spent $4.4 million in contributions and independent expenditures in 33 targeted House and Senate races. At the time, it was considered a large investment by an outside group.

The NRCC will likely spend about $40 million in independent expenditures. But this new money is from a collection of outside groups that are not subject to contribution limits.

Democrats remain confident even though they won’t have their expected spending advantage in key House contests.

“Between the candidate and DCCC dual-tracking in these districts, we believe our message will break through in the final days,” DCCC Executive Director Jon Vogel said. He said he thinks Democratic candidates will have enough money to defend themselves and the committee can deliver any attacks simultaneously if necessary.

GOP strategists said that as races remain competitive, even those with weak fundraising records will see late fundraising boosts.

“Close races beget fundraising,” Todd said. To prove the point he cited the Massachusetts Senate special election and Virginia gubernatorial races where now-Sen. Scott Brown (R) and now-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), respectively, saw a boost in fundraising as their races grew closer.

The NRCC’s early spending strategy also may have been the most fiscally efficient.

“When you have less money, you can’t wait until the price is higher,” Todd added.

The NRCC spent millions of dollars in September during the third quarter when television rates were lower than in October, the beginning of the fourth.

When the candidates raise enough money to go on television, they are eligible to purchase time at the lowest unit rate, which is not available to the party committees or outside groups.