Freedom's Watch Starts Spending
Freedom's Watch, an outside conservative organization seen by many Republicans as their best chance of holding down major losses in the House and Senate this fall, has begun spending in key races after months of relative inaction.
In the past 10 days, Freedom's Watch has dropped more than $1.6 million on ads in six House races and two Senate contests. That spending comes after the group spent less than $40,000 on television ads between May and September, raising questions in many circles about whether the group would be a major factor in the fall election.
"We're keeping a very close eye on the landscape, and at this point we're making evaluations daily on whether we can impact a particular issue debate," said Ed Patru, a spokesman for the group.
Freedom's Watch is currently on television in the Colorado and Oregon Senate races as well as House contests in Alabama's 2nd district, Illinois' 10th, Nevada's 3rd, New Jersey's 3rd and New Jersey's 7th.
The bulk of its spending is in the two statewide races; Freedom's Watch has dropped nearly $660,000 on ads in Colorado's open seat against Rep. Mark Udall (D) and another $366,000 against state House Speaker Jeff Merkley (D) in his race against Sen. Gordon Smith (R). (Detailed spending totals in each district available after the jump.)
For Congressional Republicans, the spending by Freedom's Watch has been greeted with a sigh of relief. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- through its independent expenditure operation -- has been on television in dozens of districts for several weeks, pounding on vulnerable Republican incumbents and bolstering Democratic challengers and open seat candidates. The National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee has yet to run a single ad in support of any of their candidates or against any Democrat.
That huge ad disparity is the result of the continued financial struggles of the NRCC. At the end of August, the DCCC had $54 million to spend on races as compared to just $14 million for the NRCC -- a historic funding gap.
Unlike the party committees, Freedom's Watch is able to take donations of unlimited size from individuals due to its status as a 501(c)(4) group under IRS law. The main funder for Freedom's Watch is Sheldon Adelson, the gaming billionaire who has shown a willingness to put his money where his mouth is when it comes to electoral politics.
Democrats have sought to make Adelson an issue in their response to Freedom's Watch's activities and, in Alabama's 2nd district, got a boost from the state Christian Coalition today.
"Sheldon Adelson does not share our values as Alabamans, and Freedom's Watch's underhanded attack ads do nothing but cheapen the political discourse in this state," said Dr. Randy Brinson, president of the Alabama Christian Coalition. "Where Adelson has placed his treasure makes it quite clear where his heart is: in gambling and in backing the regime in China that persecutes Christians."
As interesting as where Freedom's Watch is getting its money, is where it is spending it. All seven races in which the group is currently engaged feature either a Republican incumbent seeking reelection or an open seat being vacated by a GOP incumbent.
Freedom's Watch's decision to play defense in its first major buy of the fall campaign speaks to the general attitude Republicans in the House and Senate have adopted. With the political landscape slanted badly against them, congressional Republicans are hoping to simply weather the storm on Nov. 4, holding enough seats in the House and Senate to make them a viable minority party in 2009, and allow them to begin positioning for what is likely to be a several-cycle climb back to the majority.
When and if the NRCC goes up on television The NRCC has already reserved ad time in 18 congressional districts. Expect those commercials to follow Freedom's Watch's lead -- spending their limited resources on behalf of a handful of GOP incumbents and challengers where a bit more money can make all the difference.
Defense is all congressional Republicans can play this cycle. How well they do it will determine whether they are looking at several years or several decades in the minority come 2009.
Freedom's Watch spending
Colorado Senate: $659,212
Oregon Senate: $366,033
Alabama's 2nd district: $52,374
Illinois' 10th district: $155,298
Nevada's 3rd district: $115,510
New Jersey's 3rd district: $23,690
New Jersey's 7th district: $124,885
New Mexico's 1st district: $155,903
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