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Spending Battle for Senate Kicks Into Gear

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Claire McCaskill's re-election race in Missouri has already seen third-party ad offensives.

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The end of the first fundraising quarter also marked the end of the calm before the storm of spending in the 2012 fight for control of the Senate.

Millions will be doled out over the next seven months, most of it on TV ads and other pricey forms of voter persuasion. So far, outside group spending has yet to kick into high gear, and head-to-head polls in individual races haven’t moved much. But Senate races in states such as Missouri and Montana have already seen third-party ad offensives, and the campaign committees are beginning to tip their hand on TV spending strategies.

“There will come a moment in the summer or early fall when people begin to pay attention,” said Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for the GOP-aligned American Crossroads, which will likely spend one-third of its potential $300 million budget on House and Senate races.

There is no doubt Democrats feel better than they did six months ago about holding the majority, and Republicans continue to see multiple paths to the finish line. Some races are still shaking out, with another new Republican candidate possibly emerging in Florida and primaries in other crucial states still unfolding. But tossup races in states such as Montana and Virginia, where the players have been known for a year now, are still within the margin of error.

That will all reach a tipping point once nominations are won, voters tune in and campaigns and outside groups gear up for an onslaught of spending at the presidential and Congressional levels.

“It’s not the calm before a sea-change storm, but it is a calm before all the money,” Democratic media strategist Steve Murphy said.

It’s too early to tell exactly where the majority will be won or lost, but the field has mostly solidified into a dozen or so competitive seats out of 33 this cycle. Senate control might ultimately rest on a handful of swing states such as New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin, should Republicans close the deal on four open Democratic seats in GOP-leaning states and Democrats pick up a couple of Republican seats — none of which is a given.

Republicans would need to net four Democratic seats to win the majority if President Barack Obama wins re-election, one fewer if Mitt Romney claims the White House.

Outside money has already begun flowing into some of these states in the form of independent expenditures and issue advocacy ads. According to Federal Election Commission IE records, most of the IE spending has come in races with competitive Republican primaries, including Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and Utah.

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