The Koch Brothers aren’t waiting for the 2014 campaigns to get underway. They’re pouring cash into competitive Senate races now, shaping the issues for the mid-terms and reminding voters about the failure of Obamacare and whose idea it was.
Americans for Prosperity — which is significantly funded by the Kochs — has spent twice more than all other outside group combined. And more importantly, they are making a difference.
AFP has spent a whopping $22 million on TV ads so far this election, part of a multistate campaign that uses Obamacare’s troubled rollout to attack vulnerable Democrats. AFP’s barrage has knocked several incumbents off-balance just as their reelection campaigns begin—especially senators representing Republican-leaning states. Their early efforts have helped send Democratic senators’ approval ratings plumetting in the states where they’ve spent big bucks.
It’s the kind of precise, preemptive strike normally expected from traditional GOP heavyweights like the Karl Rove-backed American Crossroads or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But while they have remained almost silent in the midterm election’s early going, AFP has singlehandedly taken the fight to Democrats.
And in doing so, it’s emerged as the GOP’s most important outside group, a role the group’s leaders don’t plan on relinquishing anytime soon.
“Polling data for a lot of these Senate and House members who … we’ve undertaken these efforts against have clearly suffered,” said Tim Phillips, AFP’s president. “They’ve dropped, and I think that’s a reflection of the public’s dissatisfaction with Obamacare. And we’re determined to keep this issue on the front burner.”
Just this week Americans for Prosperity expanded its TV campaign to two states Obama carried in 2012: Iowa and Michigan. It’s a sign of things to come.
Democrats started out with big advantages in both states. In Iowa, Democrats quickly coalesced around the candidacy of Rep. Bruce Braley following the retirement announcement of Senator Tom Harkin. A similar situation occurred in Michigan with the party rallying around Rep. Gary Peters when Senator Carl Levin decided to call it quits. Both candidates raised a considerable amount of money and took large leads on any of several Republicans running against them.
But that was before the Obamacare disaster. A Rasmusssen poll out today shows Republican Teri Lynn Land slightly ahead of Peters in Michigan while in Iowa. Braley’s big lead has evaporated as several candidates are within 3-6 points of the Democrat.
Iowa and Michigan are states that some national GOP professionals had virtually written off as late as last summer. And a victory in either one would go a long way to making a Republican Senate takeover more likely.
Democrats have begun to push back against the AFP onslaught:
Across numerous House and Senate races this week, campaign officials have begun pushing back against the group. A spokeswoman for Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, whose state has witnessed more than $6 million in ads from AFP, issued a statement condemning the involvement of “shadowy outside groups” in her Senate race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, meanwhile, warned in a memo that the group was poised to “dump millions” into a special House race in Florida. The insulating maneuvers are on top of the millions spent by allied Democratic groups like Senate Majority PAC in response to AFP’s ads.
Party operatives are raising alarm about the group, telling their donors that they need to step up or risk being run over in the fall. “Democrats need money at this early stage in order to fight back against the limitless spending from the Kochs,” Guy Cecil, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s executive director told The New York Times on Wednesday.
The key for AFP has been timing. Just as they began to flood the airwaves with negative ads, Obamacare was flopping. The negative coverage along with the president’s broken promise proved to be fertile ground to plow in many states and many Democratic Senators saw their favorable rating go in the tank. Thus, the near panic in the party to hit back and boost fundraising to counter AFP’s campaign.
Being proactive and getting out front with a compelling, devastating narrative about the Democrats and Obamacare could lead to the kind of wave election the Republicans are looking for.