- Associated Press - Monday, September 27, 2010

In one way at least, the fight for control of Congress is already turning into a rout.

Just five weeks from midterm elections, groups allied with the Republican Party and financed in part by corporations and millionaires have amassed a massive 6-to-1 advantage in television spending, and now are dominating the airwaves in closely contested districts and states across the country.

The extra firepower on the conservative side comes as some key Democratic-leaning organizations are experiencing unexpected trouble raising money or motivating supporters.

The advertising mismatch, reflected in campaign documents obtained by the Associated Press, is hampering efforts by President Obama and Democratic leaders to sway a shrinking number of undecided voters. Early voting has already begun in some states, and Republicans are positioned to win a number of House and Senate seats, placing Democratic control of both chambers in jeopardy.

Helped by looser fundraising rules, about two dozen organizations intended to benefit Republicans are active this fall in House and Senate races; fewer than 10 are aimed at helping Democrats. Ad spending by GOP allies over the past two months has totaled nearly $30 million in 15 states with competitive Senate or House races; Democratic outside groups have spent less than $5 million. And even more money, perhaps from even more groups, is expected to roll out in the final month of the campaign

“There’s no even playing field here,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Democratic strategists say it was far easier to raise money from big-time party donors in past elections, when Democrats were seeking to unseat Republicans with promises of change. Defending seats has not created the same sense of urgency, they said. And labor unions are devoting much of their general election money to get-out-the-vote efforts, not to high-visibility television ads.

“It would be a very different situation in the rest of the country if the progressive base and the Democratic groups were fighting back,” said Craig Varoga, a Democratic strategist who is mounting a campaign in the Senate race in Nevada, one of the few waging an air war on the Democrats’ side.

“Some people unfortunately were waiting for the economy or for circumstances to magically change, and they haven’t,” he said.

The sheer numbers, spelled out in the documents, tell the story.

c In Colorado’s contest between Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Ken Buck, Republican allied groups have spent more than $4 million in advertising in the state, most of it on ads against Mr. Bennet. Democratic-leaning outside groups have been virtually silent.

c In Washington state, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is facing a heavy media buy from Republican-connected organizations in her race against GOP nominee Dino Rossi, with more than $2 million spent in August and September against her by conservative groups. A new Democratic group, Commonsense Ten, just weighed in with a $400,000 advertising effort.

c Republican groups are also mounting a strong defense to hold onto Republican seats. They poured more than $2 million into New Hampshire opposing Democratic Rep. Paul W. Hodes, who is vying for the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Judd Gregg. Similarly, GOP groups have spent more than $2.5 million in Missouri, much of it against Democrat Robin Carnahan, who is seeking the seat held by retiring Republican Sen. Christopher S. Bond.

The most significant players in the advertising assault on Senate Democratic candidates are the affiliated American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, launched under the direction of former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Together, the three groups account for about $13 million in ad spending.

The GOP groups appear to be benefiting from a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that freed big business - which typically favors Republican policies - to spend their millions directly to sway federal elections.

“You’ve gone to a world where the Supreme Court has said corporations have a constitutional right to do this spending,” said Trevor Potter, a campaign-finance lawyer who was counsel to Sen. John McCain’s Republican presidential campaign. “That green light has been very important.”



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