Several factors are contributing to American Crossroads' lower profile this year. Donations to the super PAC are down in the off year. Through the first six months of 2013, it raised $1.86 million. During the same period in 2011, it raised $3.93 million. After Mitt Romney's defeat and losing 11 of 13 Senate races it spent money on in 2012, big donors are less willing to pony up.
The emergence of state- and race-based super PACs is also playing a role in diverting money and focus away from American Crossroads. Crossroads President Steven Law, a former McConnell chief of staff, is on the board of the Kentuckians for Strong Leadership super PAC, which has already been up with ads against McConnell's Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes. The Americans for Progressive Action super PAC emerged to help Gomez in the Massachusetts Senate special election, though it lacked the firepower of the opposition.
"Consultants are trying to be entrepreneurial, by design. They want advisers who have state-specific, candidate-specific expertise," said one Republican super PAC strategist.
America Rising, the GOP's opposition research and rapid response start-up, is also laying the groundwork for future attack ads, diminishing the need for early engagement. With resources devoted to research and tracking, they've been able to generate unfavorable news coverage for Democratic candidates at a lower cost than expensive TV buys. Republicans now view different groups filling different roles as a more efficient allocation of party resources than a one-size-fits-all super PAC.
"From our perspective, when we engage, we have a long-term sustained strategy we're pursuing rather than spending $80,000 in March of the off year. Early spending is important but it needs to be sustained as part of a longer-term strategy," said Crossroads' Law. "These short-term skirmishes are more designed for a brief impact, and to generate fundraising, and brand positioning. That's something we never have done much of."