WASHINGTON — Signaling the next stage in the general election campaign, the Republican Party and outside groups are airing new rounds of advertising in some of the most competitive Senate battlegrounds, ramping up spending and the negative tone of the political season.
With six weeks to go before the election, advertising by candidates, parties and outside groups will saturate the airwaves in what is on track to become the most expensive campaign on record. While Senate campaigns are dominating some of the air space, races for governor and numerous open House seats are also contributing to the explosion in spending.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the biggest footprint, spending $1 million in Florida against Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for the Senate as an independent. The chamber has endorsed the Republican candidate, Marco Rubio.
The chamber is spending $500,000 in Kentucky against Democrat Jack Conway. The chamber this week endorsed Republican Rand Paul, and it is spending about $300,000 in New Hampshire against Senate Democratic candidate Paul Hodes and $250,000 in Colorado against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.
Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue has pledged to spend up to $75 million this election, rivaling the money spent by the political parties.
Ads by the conservative Club for Growth Action and the National Republican Senatorial Committee join those by the chamber that portray Democratic Senate candidates as big spenders who have not been able to bring the economy under control.
The liberal MoveOn.org is countering in two states – New Hampshire and Kentucky – with anti-Chamber of Commerce ads that link Republican Senate candidates to corporate interests and accuse the chamber of abusing its status as a nonprofit trade organization.
MoveOn's ads hit both Kentucky's Paul and New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Kelly Ayotte for their support from the chamber. It would not disclose the amount spent on the commercials, which air for a week statewide in both states.
MoveOn has teamed up with Media Matters Action Network and ThinkProgress.org, two other liberal groups, to pounce on the chamber's political activities. A labor-backed group, U.S. Chamber Watch, last week filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Services claiming the chamber improperly handled millions of dollars from a group linked to insurance conglomerate AIG. The chamber denies it did anything improper.
Other ads that began airing this week:
_Club for Growth Action launched ads attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada as well as Bennet in Colorado and Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. It also is airing ads against Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania and Crist in Florida. Altogether, the Club for Growth is spending $1.5 million.
_The National Republican Senatorial Committee also began airing an ad against Bennet, making him among the most marked Senate candidates. The ad is the second independent commercial by the NRSC. It recently aired an ad in Kentucky aimed at Conway.
_Commonsense Ten, a new group allied with Democrats, began airing an ad in Kansas City, Mo., targeting Rep. Roy Blunt, the Republican Senate candidate. It cites Blunt's unsuccessful efforts in 2003 to insert pro-tobacco provisions into a homeland security bill.