In the super PAC era of campaign politics, even Senate incumbents who appear safe in the summer can be on the ropes by the fall — and Democrats looking to protect their majority are already trying to ensure that none of their incumbents this cycle gets taken by an October surprise.
Democrats are defending a hefty 24 seats this year. And while their class of candidates has done quite well on paper in terms of fundraising, Members in second-tier races — where money isn’t pouring in as rapidly — privately have begun to express unease about having enough funds in the bank when the real money crunch comes this fall.
Perhaps no one presents a clearer case study for this year’s class of incumbent candidates than Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.).
A popular and veteran lawmaker, Murray consistently held a 2- to 6-point advantage over her Republican opponent in 2010 before outside groups spent more than $8 million to try to defeat her, according to OpenSecrets.org. Though she won her race by almost
4 points, she had been in a statistical dead heat in the polls by Election Day and had to spend $200,000 more than the
$9.4 million that she raised to do it, according to campaign spending reports.
Now charged with protecting the Democratic seats, Murray is quick to remind her colleagues of her own race as she pushes them to keep building their campaign war chests.
“I remind them of what happened to me in the last election where I didn’t have an opponent until May of the election year, and it became one of the top five races because that’s what super PAC money does,” Murray said. “I think in this era, where we are seeing multinational corporations buying elections, big money, everybody has to work really hard.”
Of course, outside money cuts both ways, and Democrats have coalitions of supporters that will play in races on their behalf — especially big labor, which is likely to engage in Midwestern states such as Ohio or Michigan, where state legislatures are still debating labor laws and unemployment is high.
But Republican super PACs are likely to dominate, and they have already been successful in helping preferred conservative candidates in primaries.
According to campaign finance reports filed at the end of May, Club for Growth Action and FreedomWorks — two of the more influential conservative groups — are beginning to shift their focus to Congressional races. Club for Growth Action spent $2.2 million on House and Senate races in April, and FreedomWorks, a tea-party-promoting group, spent almost $400,000 on about a half-dozen races in that same time period.