Democrats are increasingly anxious about an onslaught of television ads hitting vulnerable Senate and House candidates for their support of the new health law, since many lack the resources to fight back in the early stages of the midterm campaign.
Since September, Americans for Prosperity, a group financed in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, has spent an estimated $20 million on television advertising that calls out House and Senate Democrats by name for their support of the Affordable Care Act.
The unusually aggressive early run of television ads, which has been supplemented by other conservative initiatives, has gone largely unanswered, and strategists in both parties agree it is taking a toll on its targets.
Building on the success, the deep-pocketed organization disclosed on Tuesday that it was expanding its Senate efforts with $1.8 million in airtime to attack Democratic House members running for the Senate in Iowa and Michigan, where Democrats are viewed as holding an early advantage. The group was also moving into Montana, a state where Democrats may struggle to defend a seat, on behalf of a Republican House member running for the Senate.
At National Journal, Alex Roarty reports that AFP has emerged as the top outside GOP group.
But what makes its efforts so significant now is that it's spending big bucks while the other major Republican outside groups are standing pat. American Crossroads has barely raised any money since the last election. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's political arm has spent relatively small sums in several GOP primaries. Even the Senate Conservatives Fund, whose PAC launched several high-profile TV ads against fellow Republicans, has spent only about $5 million in the last year, according to a source close to the group.
In fact, by one measure, AFP has bought almost as much airtime as every other outside group combined. Total spending from Republican and Democratic outside groups totaled only $5 million more than AFP's, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Not all political spending, including Americans for Prosperity's, is reported to the Federal Election Commission, so it's not an apples-to-oranges comparison, but it's nonetheless illustrative of the group's sizable investment.
But money alone doesn't explain its success; timing has been just as important. While other groups kept their powder dry for 2014, AFP's negative spots coincided with dismal reviews of Obamacare's opening months. While voters were hearing about faulty websites and canceled health plans at work and home, they were watching ads that laid the blame on Democrats on their TV. The ads themselves—which have frequently featured a lone man or woman explaining to the camera how Obamacare has hurt them and their family—have won plaudits from other GOP strategists for their personal touch.