Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, already under the glaring light of a hot re-election campaign, has plans to hit the airwaves even though the 2012 races have just begun.
Though the North Dakotan hasn't announced whether he'll run for re-election and so far has no Republican challenger, commercials are already airing in the state. Next week Conrad will become the first Senator this cycle to air an ad on his own behalf.
The conservative nonprofit American Future Fund fired the opening salvo with a radio ad reminding listeners of a promise the Budget Committee chairman made in 1986.
"That was the year Conrad first ran for U.S. Senate. Conrad promised he would resign if the budget deficit hadn't fallen," a female announcer says. "Twenty-five years later our deficits are out of control."
Commonsense Ten, a Democratic group, responded with an ad lamenting out-of-state attacks and promoting Conrad's North Dakota bona fides, according to the Washington Post.
Conrad himself will start airing ads next week, Politico reported Friday. Sen. Ben Nelson, also up for re-election in 2012, actually aired the first ads, defending his health care vote in December 2009.
"Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your radio, they're at it again: out-of-state special interest groups attacking our Senator, Kent Conrad, two years before the next election," a male narrator says as spooky music plays. "But North Dakotans know the truth: no one's fought harder to lower the deficit and slash spending than Kent Conrad."
The ad quotes former Republican Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) making complimentary statements about Conrad.
Conrad has reason for concern. Though North Dakota was once a Democratic bastion, in 2010 Republicans made themselves at home. Republican Gov. John Hoeven easily won retiring Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan's seat, and longtime Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy fell to now-Rep. Rick Berg. Republicans also control the governorship and both chambers of the state legislature.
The Republican field is wide open and reflects a deep bench in North Dakota. Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk said he would make a decision about the race soon, and other statewide officials, including Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, have also been mentioned as potential candidates.
Conrad, 62, served as tax commissioner before he was elected to the Senate in 1986. His lowest re-election winning percentage came in 1994, the year Republicans took control of the House; in that race he got 58 percent of the vote.
Roll Call Politics rates this race Leans Democratic. The 2012 general election is 669 days away.