Meanwhile, despite being outgunned, outside Democratic money is helping expand the playing field, putting Republican-held seats in Arizona and Indiana in play, while Republicans are playing catch-up. It’s also offering worthwhile protection for candidates facing wealthy, self-funded candidates – as in Connecticut, where the Democratic nominee, Rep. Chris Murphy, has been outspent by his free-spending Republican opponent Linda McMahon, but where outside groups have helped to even the score.
House Democratic strategists, meanwhile, have been surprised that allied outside super PACs are outspending Republican outside groups by a decent margin, even as they publicly warned that their candidates would be buried by GOP super PAC money throughout much of the year. Between July and October, pro-Democratic super PACs have spent $18.2 million in House races, while Republican groups have only expended $11.5 million. House Majority PAC, the biggest Democratic House super PAC, has played the role of a shadow DCCC, plopping in money to fill the spending voids and releasing polling to telegraph the most vulnerable Republican members. The expected Republican spending barrage hasn’t yet followed suit in House races, though the GOP-aligned American Action Network and Congressional Leadership Fund are pledging to spend about $13.5 million.
At this point, with ad spending already saturating major markets, it’s hard — and very expensive — to play catch-up. Republicans argue that they have more flexibility to choose which races to target as developments change late. But Democrats, at the least, are getting much more value for their spending, securing lower advertising rates by reserving ad time in advance.
Indeed, despite carping about the new campaign finance rules, Democrats have adapted to them in near-record speed. The pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA amped up its fundraising over the last several months, and its ads portraying Romney as a corporate raider were among the most brutal in denting his personal favorability. House Majority PAC has emerged as the big super PAC player in House races, already having a decisive role in helping hold onto Gabrielle Giffords’ old House seat in Arizona. And despite starting out at a big financial disadvantage, Senate Democrats enter the homestretch in enviable position to hold onto the majority, and are now much closer to financial parity.
This year’s election is reminding me of this year’s baseball season, where some of the teams with the lowest payrolls in the game — the Oakland A’s, Baltimore Orioles, and Washington Nationals — made the playoffs, while many of the deep-spending franchises, like the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Texas Rangers, fell short of expectations. It all goes to show that money only goes so far. Knowing how to spend it wisely is much more important.