Editor’s note: The Center for Public Integrity is tracking political advertising in races for the U.S. Senate and state-level offices. Use these two, interactive features — with new data every Thursday — to see who is calling the shots and where the money is being spent.
When it comes to winning U.S. Senate races’ television ad wars, Team Blue has seized the advantage a month before Election Day.
Democratic candidates and their liberal allies last week aired more TV ads than their conservative opponents in seven out of nine top battleground states, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG, an advertising tracking service.
Democrats proved particularly dominant in the U.S. Senate races being waged in Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan, where they bested Republicans by sponsoring hundreds more TV spots throughout each state, the analysis indicates.
At the beginning of September, Democrats were producing more TV ads than Republicans, overall, in key Senate battleground states. As September wore on, however, the GOP ate away at those leads. Last week represents a dramatic shift in that dynamic back toward a Democratic advantage. Whereas the Democrats' lead in TV spots during most of the election cycle have been relatively modest, the left’s ad buys last week created a large gulf with its conservative opponents.
Non-candidate committees —party organizations, super PACs and nonprofit groups — led the early October advertising spree.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee alone sponsored about 6,300 ads last week across nine states — from Alaska to North Carolina — buoyed by a nearly $25.3 million cash reserve and $5.1 million in debt going into September. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, at more than 2,400 ads across five states, placed a distant second. The NRSC reported several million dollars less on hand heading into September — about $19.9 million — but no debt.
Liberal super PAC Senate Majority PAC, at about 2,000 TV ads across five Senate races, last week led all super PACs and nonprofits, which each may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against candidates. The group's largest donors this year include billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, media mogul Fred Eychaner and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
That a super PAC supporting Democrats is trouncing other non-candidate groups in political messaging illustrates how intimately liberal politicos have embraced the political spending freedoms created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision of 2010, said John Carroll, a mass communications professor at Boston University and media analysis for Public Radio International’s “Here and Now” show.
While Republicans grabbed an early and clear spending advantage over Democrats immediately after the Citizens United ruling, Democrats are now “beginning to beat Republicans at their own game,” Carroll said.
And they’re not conserving resources until the very end of the election to make a splash, given that Republicans have a good chance of capturing the six seats they need to win a Senate majority.
“It’s a concession to reality — they can be holier than thou and poorer than thou, and they’re not willing to do that,” Carroll said. “Being against big money was good for rallying the faithful, but [Democrats] are now in for a dime, in for a dollar.”