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Senate air wars heat up, playing field comes into focus

1. Twenty six days before the November election, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is up with independent expenditure ads in twice as many states as its Republican rival.

An analysis of independent expenditure spending -- a major "thank you" to Post reporter (and resident numbers genius) T.W. Farnam for his help -- shows the DSCC airing ads in nine states: Colorado, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, West Virginia, Illinois, Delaware, Connecticut and Washington.

Of the nine states, just two -- Missouri and Kentucky -- are currently held by Republicans, and therefore represent pickup opportunities for Senate Democrats.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, by contrast, is up with independent expenditure ads in four states: Washington, Kentucky, Colorado and West Virginia. Three of those four are Democratic-controlled seats.

According to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission through Wednesday night, the DSCC has spent better than $10.3 million on ads, with the largest expenditures coming in Pennsylvania ($3.2 million) and Colorado ($3.1 million). By week's end, the DSSC's spending will be considerably larger; it launched new independent expenditure ads in Washington State and Kentucky earlier in the week, although the cost of airing those commercials is not yet public.

The NRSC has spent just north of $3 million on its independent expenditure efforts thus far with the biggest chunk of change going to Colorado ($1.6 million) and, interestingly, West Virginia ($1.3 million).

Senate Republicans have been able to sit on much of their cash, thanks to heavy spending in a number of states by American Crossroads, the conservative third party group founded by former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and former White House senior adviser Karl Rove.

In Missouri, for example, the NRSC hasn't spent a dime on the race between Rep. Roy Blunt (R) and Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D). But American Crossroads has dumped $1.8 million into the race. Ditto Illinois, where the Crossroads group has spent better than $1 million.

As interesting as where the two parties are spending money is where they aren't.

Senate Democrats still have spent no money in Indiana, Arkansas and North Dakota -- a trio of seats they currently control but where polling suggests an uphill climb.

Senate Republicans, on the other hand, haven't spent any cash in Delaware, a sign that that they simply don't believe marketing consultant Christine O'Donnell (R) can win the open seat race.

Ad buys can and will change over the final weeks of the campaign, as each side makes a rolling series of decisions about where its money is best spent. It's a fascinating game of three-dimensional chess and The Fix will be monitoring each move.

2. A new Republican poll conducted in the Washington Senate race shows that former state Sen. Dino Rossi (R) may have overtaken Sen. Patty Murray (D).

The survey, conducted by Fabrizio, McLaughlin and Associates for the conservative-aligned American Action Forum, showed Rossi leading Murray 48 percent to 42 percent among likely voters. The results indicate that the race has shifted in Rossi's favor since June, when the same pollster's survey showed the candidates tied at 46 percent apiece.

Most other recent polling shows the race close, with some surveys indicating that Murray has a slight lead.

According to the Fabrizio survey, 45 percent of likely voters view Murray favorably, compared with 45 percent who view her unfavorably. That's not far off from Rossi's ratings; 46 percent of likely voters viewed him favorably while 41 percent viewed him unfavorably.

The number of voters saying that it's time to elect a new senator in the GOP survey has ticked up slightly since the summer. In June, 46 percent of those surveyed said it's time to give a new person a chance. Now, 51 percent of voters say the same thing, while 39 percent say that Murray deserves re-election.

Murray has weathered tough races before, and she has been waging an aggressive campaign against Rossi since even before the primary. Her most recent TV ad in the race, released this week, charges that Rossi wants big banks "to continue to play roulette with our money."

3. Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio's (R) announcement that he raised more than $5 million for his Senate bid during the third fundraising quarter not only shatters Florida fundraising records -- it surpasses the fundraising total of all other non-self funding candidates in any quarter this cycle to date.

As impressively, Rubio's camp announced that it has more than $5.5 million cash on hand heading into the final stretch of the campaign - and that's in addition to the $2.5 million the National Republican Senatorial Committee has pledged to spend on Rubio's behalf in the race.

Rubio's average contribution in the third quarter was about $80; he has raised a total of more than $16 million to date, according to his campaign. (No figures are available yet on the percentage of in-state versus out-of-state contributions.) Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) and Gov. Charlie Crist (I) have not yet released their third-quarter fundraising numbers but it's almost certain they won't approach Rubio's stellar haul.

Rubio's announcement came hours before the three Senate hopefuls met in a key debate Wednesday night hosted by ABC's George Stephanopoulos. (And, no, that was not an accident.) Rubio's frontrunner status was evident, as Crist and Meek directed many of their attacks at the former state House speaker.

Meek came out aggressively against Rubio in his opening statement, saying that the Republican would side with oil companies and not with voters.

Crist touted himself as a reformer aiming to take out the extreme right in Washington and "crash" the tea party. "You haven't been drinking the Kool-Aid, my friend," Crist said to Rubio at one point. "You've been drinking too much tea."

Rubio, meanwhile, focused on his themes of maintaining America's greatness and changing the course of things in Washington. He also engaged with his two opponents, telling Meek that the administration's economic stimulus was a "massive failure" and hitting Crist for changing positions on issues including health care reform.

4. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has dropped another $5 million in 35 House districts, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday.

The committee spent its first money of the cycle on districts held by Reps. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Scott Murphy (D-N.Y), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), Harry Teague (D-N.M.), Tom Perriello (D-Va.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.), Zack Space (D-Ohio), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), adding them to the list of seats the committees will fight for over the next four weeks.

The committee made particularly large investments in districts held by Rodriguez, Teague, Kirkpatrick and Space, spending at least $240,000 in each.

The DCCC also spent $259,000 in the open-seat race in Washington's 3rd district, $395,000 on Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.), $235,000 on Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) and $328,000 on Rep. John Boccieri (D-Ohio).

The DCCC's biggest investments to date are for Kissell ($624,000 total spending), Alabama Rep. Bobby Bright ($626,000), Boccieri ($536,000) and Michigan Rep. Mark Schauer ($458,000).

The committee has now spent independent expenditure money in 43 districts.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is still spending more money on more districts. It has shelled out $11.4 million so far, compared to $10.9 million for the DCCC.

The NRCC is now in 46 districts, and is set to add Salazar and Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Zack Space (D-Ohio), Phil Hare (D-Ill.) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) to its list of targets.

5. The Pennsylvania Senate race ad wars are ramping up with two new ads launched by Rep. Joe Sestak (D) and the Club for Growth, the
anti-tax organization once headed by former Rep. Pat Toomey (R)

Sestak's ad ties Toomey to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as well as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R.), who was unseated in 2006 by then-state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D). In a similar vein to his devastating spot against Sen. Arlen Specter (D) during the primary, Sestak's latest ad uses his rival's own words against him.

"My voting record is pretty hard to distinguish from Rick Santorum's," Toomey says in the Sestak ad. The narrator adds that Toomey "called Sarah Palin 'a spectacular governor'" and also features footage of Toomey stating that he "would support legislation in Pennsylvania that would ban abortion."

The Club's ad, meanwhile, makes the argument that Toomey's camp has been making since the general election lo these many months ago -- that Sestak is "laughably liberal" and supports wasteful government spending.

"Despite the recession, Sestak voted for that $700 billion Obama-Pelosi stimulus," the ad's narrator says. "Sestak backed spending a half-million dollars to study ant hills, $210,000 tax dollars to examine how honeybees learn, even $100,000 for socially-conscious puppet shows."

An Allentown Morning Call poll released Tuesday showed Toomey leading Sestak 45 percent to 38 percent among likely voters.

National Democrats remain confident in Sestak's chances. Still, this is one race where the national winds are especially strong, as President Obama and the national Democratic party are not particularly popular outside of Philadelphia.

With Felicia Sonmez and Aaron Blake

By Chris Cillizza  | October 7, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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