A late spending splurge by outside political groups helped Republicans take back the House two years ago. The floodgates are opening again, but this time Democrats say they're better prepared.
So far in 2012, Democratic groups have generally been able to keep pace with the competition. Outside groups have spent about $60 million trying to help GOP candidates since June 1 and about $49 million trying to help out Democratic candidates, according the Sunlight Foundation.
But some of the Republican support groups are just getting started.
The Chamber of Commerce launched $8 million ad campaigns last week on behalf of 20 GOP candidates in close House races in California, New York and Illinois. Until then, the chamber had focused its money on Senate contests.
American Action Network and the Congressional Leadership Fund, two Republican support groups led by former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, have spent about $3.1 million so far on House races. This week they said they will spend at least $13.5 million more during the campaign's final month.
After focusing on the presidential and Senate races the past four months, the deep-pocketed Crossroads groups co-founded by Karl Rove also are beginning to pour more resources into House races.
Crossroads GPS dumped $716,000 in New York in late September for ads aimed at defeating Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop and re-electing Republican Rep. Chris Gibson. A spokesman said this week the groups were planning to spend tens of millions of dollars more over the next four weeks to "protect the majority in the U.S. House and promote a conservative agenda."
A Democratic official who tracks media buys said Thursday that Crossroads GPS has purchased nearly $7 million worth of broadcast and cable ads to run later this month in eight House races.
Americans for Tax Reform has purchased nearly $6 million in broadcast and cable ads in six House races, the official said on the condition of anonymity. The latter group, led by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, had invested only $500,000 on one House race, in Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District with the aim of defeating Rep. Mark Critz. Americans for Tax Reform presses lawmakers to sign a pledge promising not to increase income taxes. The organization did not return calls seeking comment.
Dan Conston, a spokesman for the American Action Network and Congressional Leadership Fund, said the late surge in spending by the Coleman groups is by design because many voters don't pay attention to political ads until late in the campaign.
"With a political environment this competitive, we're pleased at having spent some resources early, but having the lion's share for the final weeks when hard-to-reach undecided voters tune in," Mr. Conston said.
Democratic officials say they're not surprised by the recent ad buys and announcements. They've been bracing for a late surge in outside spending after it proved so effective in helping the GOP win control of the House in 2010, when 87 GOP freshmen were elected for a net pickup of 63 seats after retirements.
"We've been expecting this all along," said Andy Stone, spokesman for the House Majority PAC, the leading Democratic super PAC in this year's races.
Mr. Stone said that the House Majority PAC prepared for the finals weeks by reserving about $20 million worth of television ad time in keys races early in the summer, locking in lower rates than those offered to current buyers.
"As a result, we're getting a better rate, a better deal than the Republicans are," Mr. Stone said.