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Money Pours Into Special Election Races

The House Republican and Democratic campaign committees are in the midst of the political spring training season, pouring money into a pair of special election races as they try out strategies and themes for use in the championship matchup Nov. 4.

In Indiana's 7th district, Andre Carson (D) is running to replace his late grandmother, Rep. Julia Carson (D), who passed away in December. Carson faces state Rep. Jon Elrod (R) in a March 11 special election.

But the real focus from both parties is on Illinois' 14th district seat, which became vacant last year when ex-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) resigned from the House. Dairy magnate Jim Oberweis (R) is squaring off against scientist Bill Foster in a March 8 contest that has become a cash magnet.

Through March 1, the National Republican Congressional Committee had spent nearly $1.2 million in independent expenditures on the race for everything from direct mail and phone banks to surveys. On Friday, the NRCC dropped a cool $850,000 on the Dallas-based media firm Scott Howell & Co. for television ads against Foster, spots that will run in the expensive Chicago media market.

For its part, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had spent $623,000 through Saturday on the Illinois contest, which is expected to be close. A poll conducted for Foster's campaign in late February showed the Democrat leading by 4 points, even though Hastert held the seat easily for two decades and President Bush won the district in 2004 by 11 points.

In the Indiana contest, the DCCC had spent $148,000 through Saturday to boost Carson and hurt Elrod, while the NRCC has not filed any independent expenditures for that race.

Now, it may look like both committees are spending a pretty penny in recent weeks. But in this context, all dollars are not created equal. As of Jan. 31, the DCCC had $35.5 million in the bank while the NRCC had just $6.4 million on hand. And the GOP has far more pricey open seats to defend than Democrats do.

So Republicans have been forced to spend something like 20 percent of its available cash to hold a seat that should be in the red column anyway, especially since a loss in the former Speaker's own backyard would be particularly painful on the symbolic level. We'll find out this Saturday whether spending all that precious cash pays off for the GOP.

By Ben Pershing  |  March 3, 2008; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign  
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