- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Whether it’s Good Morning America, General Hospital or the evening news, viewers in New Hampshire have likely seen an ad this week in which a young girl at a spelling bee is asked to spell “Shaheen” and answers “O-b-a-m-a.”

It’s part of an onslaught that has given the state a dubious distinction: New Hampshire television viewers are seeing more U.S. Senate ads than anywhere else in the country, according to the Center for Public Integrity. More than 12,000 ads have already run in New Hampshire and in the past week, nine out of every 10 were negative.

“I think you’re seeing this good cop, bad cop scenario across the board, where outside groups are being bad cops, running all the negative ads, which allows the candidates themselves to be a bit more positive,” said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire.

That American Crossroads spelling bee ad, targeting incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, will air 123 times on WMUR-TV this week at a total cost of $570,000, according to the station’s public file. It’s not just Republican groups that are saturating television: Democratic groups aimed at keeping the Senate majority are spending big to link Shaheen’s Republican opponent, Scott Brown, to oil companies and job outsourcing.

Outside groups have spent $19 million already on the U.S. Senate race alone, making it the eighth most expensive Senate race in the country this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That money is not exclusive to television ads and could include other spending, such as direct mail and radio ads. Shaheen’s campaign spent $10 million as of Sept. 30, already outpacing what she spent in 2008. Brown’s campaign did not respond to a request for its spending numbers.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Senate Majority PAC, which have both been running anti-Brown ads, booked a combined $1 million in airtime for the last week of the campaign, according to political operatives who track campaign ad spending plans. American Crossroads has purchased more than $2.5 million in airtime for the rest of the election cycle, according to data from the Federal Elections Commission.

The figures aren’t precise and the total amount spent on ads may never be known.

In the Senate race, Shaheen’s run 17 ads, seven of them attacks against Brown. He’s run 12 ads, nine of which are negative.

Outside groups are also spending in New Hampshire’s U.S. House races, though at a slower pace than in 2012.

The governor’s race has had minimal outside spending, with only the Republican Governors Association spending on Walt Havenstein’s behalf. That’s a stark contrast from 2012, when outside groups spent $19 million in the governor’s race. The low outside spending this time suggests Democrats are comfortable with incumbent Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s lead, and Republicans aren’t confident enough to try to upend the race, Scala said.

Scala says running the negative ads can be risky: The trick is to do enough harm to one’s opponent without getting backlash from voters. But all ads, he says, serve a purpose.

“If we weren’t reminding voters there was an election, they’d be forgetting about it,” Scala said. “There’s no forgetting about it here.”

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