The biggest spender in U.S. Senate campaigns so far this year got involved in a battleground governor's race this week.
Americans for Prosperity, the conservative nonprofit that has spent about $30 million on advertising in Senate races over the last several months, released a TV ad criticizing Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn this week. Capitol Fax reported that AFP's Illinois chapter was putting about $120,000 toward running the ad on cable.
It's a sign that despite the Washington magnifying glass on AFP's federally focused spending so far, state politics will be another priority for the group in 2014. The ad appears to be AFP's first TV spot of 2014 affecting a governor's race, and it comes in the state that gives Republicans their best chance to defeat a Democratic governor this year. Quinn, who has never been blessed with great approval ratings, faces Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner in the general election after the two won their party nominations on Tuesday night.
"We consider our identity as a state-based organization," said David From, AFP's Illinois state director. From said the ad isn't explicitly focused on the gubernatorial election: Quinn has a major budget speech coming up, and part of his plan for righting the state's finances includes supporting a progressive income tax instead of the state's current flat structure. Americans for Prosperity has been fighting the proposal for months.
Taxes will be a huge topic in the governor's campaign, where Quinn and Rauner have already traded accusations of "class warfare" and fixing the state budget is one of the main topics.
"We want to make sure the public is aware of where people stand on the issues," From said. "Governor Quinn is really going to try to make [the election] a class-warfare fight, and the progressive income tax is an arrow in that quiver."
Though AFP's Senate-related spending is grabbing the most attention right now, it has long been involved in state politics and spent big money boosting a few Republican governors in 2012. The group spent around $10 million supporting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his policies in 2011 and 2012 ahead of and during his expensive recall election. AFP also spent about a half-million dollars on North Carolina's state government elections in 2012, including some direct mail supporting victorious Gov. Pat McCrory.
Since then, AFP remained active in state-based policy fights in 2013, running advertisements in Indiana, North Carolina, and elsewhere pushing conservative policy goals. Now that the election year has rolled around and 36 governors' mansions are up for grabs even as state lawmakers keep writing new legislation, we may start seeing more ads like this one around the country.
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