Impact of super PACs felt in GOP Senate primary races

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Super PACs — the outside fundraising groups expected to play a big role in the November elections — already have been involved heavily in GOP Senate primary races, in which they have boosted the campaigns of underfunded insurgents.

While super PACs have showered cash on establishment candidates, the groups have been credited with helping push some long-shot contestants to recent victories, including Nebraska state Sen. Deb Fischer’s improbable win Tuesday in her state’s Republican Senate primary.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, who had been considered the Republican favorite for the seat that will be vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, enjoyed a huge fundraising advantage in the GOP primary, collecting more than $3.5 million through April 25 — the latest data available from the Federal Election Commission. Mrs. Fischer had raised about $395,000 during the same time period, while GOP primary rival and tea party favorite Don Stenberg raised about $700,000.

But Mrs. Fischer’s campaign benefited when a super PAC called the Ending Spending Fund spent more than $250,000 on media advertisements either supporting her or opposing Mr. Bruning in the final days of the primary race, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan website that tracks money in politics.

A total of almost $839,000 in attack ads against Mr. Bruning were paid for with super PAC money, including more than $700,000 from a super PAC affiliated with the influential fiscal conservative Club for Growth.

Sen. Jim DeMint’s leadership PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, while not a super PAC, also spent almost $945,000 in support of Mr. Stenberg’s losing effort.

Despite her fundraising disadvantage, Mrs. Fischer defeated Mr. Bruning with 41 percent of the vote to 36 percent, with Mr. Stenberg coming in third with 19 percent. She will face Democrat Bob Kerrey, a former U.S. senator, in November’s general election.

In Texas, at least $3 million in super PAC money has been spent in a highly contentious GOP Senate primary between party-establishment candidate Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and tea party-supported rival Ted Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general, according to OpenSecrets.

The Texas Conservatives Fund, a super PAC that for weeks has been running a TV ad attacking Mr. Cruz, on Monday filed a $1 million expenditure with the FEC for new ads. Club for Growth’s super PAC announced a day later it had spent almost $2 million last week alone on efforts to oppose the Mr. Dewhurst’s candidacy. The group has endorsed Mr. Cruz in the race.

About $3 million in super PAC money was spent in Indiana’s testy GOP Senate primary, which ended last week when conservative state Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated longtime Sen. Richard G. Lugar, according to OpenSecrets. The majority of this money was spent to defeat Mr. Lugar, including almost $1.5 million from the Club for Growth super PAC.

Mr. Mourdock will face Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in the general election.

In Utah, super PACs have spent almost $760,000 for next month’s Republican primary between sixth-term incumbent Sen. Orrin G. Hatch and challenger Dan Liljenquist. The tally includes more than $738,000 by FreedomWorks for America for efforts to defeat Mr. Hatch.

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