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Politics

Republicans outspend Democrats in Senate races

| Saturday, April 21, 2012

WASHINGTON -- "Where's the cavalry?"

That's the question some Democrats in Missouri are asking about the wave of outside money flooding the state to unseat Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Largely conservative, outside groups favorable to Republicans have so far outspent those favoring Democrats in the Show Me State by almost 7-to-1, according to campaign observers.

McCaskill, viewed as one of the more vulnerable Senate Democrats this year, is not without resources. She has raised $2.3 million since January and has $6 million in the bank. The veterans advocacy group VoteVets also recently spent nearly $200,000 to air a pro-McCaskill ad in Kansas City and St. Louis. And she is among the wealthiest members of the Senate.

But with corporations, labor unions and others now permitted to spend unlimited amounts of money, and big donors allowed to remain secret, some Democrats, including McCaskill, are wondering when their reinforcements are coming.

"It's very hard," she said. "I really feel like I'm boxing shadows. I'd give anything if I knew who was buying these ads."

She's not alone. In several highly competitive Senate races across the country, spending on the airwaves by "super PACs" and independent, nonprofit groups favors Republicans by wide margins.

In Montana, where Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is facing a tough re-election fight, third-party groups attacking him have spent more than twice as much on anti-Tester ads than those that are airing ads in his favor, according to numbers compiled by his campaign.

And in the key presidential battleground state of Ohio, "we're being outspent 10-to-1" by outside groups, said Justin Barasky, a spokesman for Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.

He said the race was tightening and that the biggest challenge will be the financial advantage enjoyed by Brown's opponents.

"The threat of unlimited amounts of money coming in by outside groups makes any incumbent all the more worried about having sufficient funds to fight," said Michael Beckel, who tracks campaign spending for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan political watchdog group.

Part of the Democrats' problem is that most of the oxygen in their fundraising universe is being swallowed up right now by President Obama's re-election campaign.

Democrats also "don't have the number of eight-figure donors that Republicans have," said Democratic political strategist Steve Murphy. "We just don't."

But several top Missouri Democrats said they were not overly concerned about being outspent because McCaskill was holding her own in the polls.

"If we felt like her numbers were slipping, I think you would see more cash being spent," said Michael Kelly, former executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party.

McCaskill has been trying to husband her resources for the fall, when she likely will need them the most. But she has spent more than half a million dollars so far on her own ads to try to counter the third-party onslaught.

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