The National Republican Senatorial Committee placed its marker down this week by reserving more than $9 million in ad time in three targeted states, a move that ensures it will have a major television presence in the final two months of the campaign.
The NRSC bought ad time in South Dakota, Oklahoma and North Carolina this week for spots that will begin Sept. 7 in all three.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee struck back with an ad of its own that hit the airwaves in South Carolina on Thursday.
The NRSC does not need to pay for the advertisements until roughly two weeks before they run, and, in fact, may wind up scaling back or increasing these buys as the election nears.
“We are going to be shifting stuff around,” said Rick Reed, a partner in the Republican media consulting firm Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, which is tasked with handling the NRSC’s independent expenditure campaign. “This is a very fluid process.”
The three-state buy represents the first major strategic foray by a national party committee in the post-campaign finance reform era.
Under the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, which went into effect following the 2002 elections, party committees are banned from raising or spending soft money, which could be gathered in unlimited chunks.
The buy also comes as a number of independent groups like Americans for Job Security and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launch ads, paid for with soft money, in the weeks leading up to Sept. 2 — at which point they are barred from using soft dollars to pay for spots.
All of the ads sponsored by the party committees will be paid for with hard dollars and will be handled by outside consulting firms.
The DSCC’s independent expenditure effort is overseen by Paul Johnson, a former executive director of the committee.
These firms are not allowed to confer with the party committees or the individual Senate candidates.
Reed said he made the decision to buy time now because “the further ahead that you can reserve time the better off you are.”
The committee’s largest expenditure came in North Carolina where Rep. Richard Burr (R) is running for the open seat now held by the Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. John Edwards.
A slew of recent polls have shown 2002 nominee Erskine Bowles (D) with a high single-digit lead over Burr.
The NRSC has bought $5.3 million worth of television time in the Tar Heel State at varying levels of intensity.
The lowest total point buy is in the Raleigh market (5,000 points); the highest is in the Greenville-New Bern market (nearly 11,000 points), which takes in the the North Carolina coast.
A 1,000-point buy means that the average viewer in the media market will see the commercial 10 times in a week.
Both Burr and Bowles have already begun their own campaign advertising and given their fundraising success are likely to be on the air for the duration of the contest.
In Oklahoma’s open-seat Senate race, the NRSC has booked nearly $2 million worth of television time in support of former Rep. Tom Coburn (R), who is taking on Rep. Brad Carson (D).
Carson replaced Coburn in the 2nd district, which takes in eastern Oklahoma, in 1998; judging from the NRSC’s ad buy, that area looks to be the battleground in this election.
The committee has reserved more than 8,000 points in the Tulsa media market, which takes in almost all of the eastern portion of the state.
The smallest part of the NRSC buy was in the Ada market (5,500 points); that area includes “Little Dixie,” one of the most reliably Democratic sections of the state.
The South Dakota buy is roughly $2.4 million designed to influence the race between Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) and former Rep. John Thune (R).
Much of the buy — $1.6 million — is concentrated in the Sioux Falls market, which covers the territory east of the Missouri River and trends more Democratic.
The Chamber of Commerce began running a television spot Thursday evening that will be accompanied by radio ads and direct mail. The Chamber ads are scheduled to run at 1,400 points statewide until Sept. 2 at a cost of roughly $300,000.
The ad takes Daschle to task for allegedly “killing medical malpractice lawsuit reform.”
“Tom Daschle, more interested in scoring political points than solving our problems,” says the ad’s narrator.
Daschle has pledged to keep all independent groups supporting him or attacking Thune out of the state.
In South Carolina, the DSCC launched an ad attacking Rep. Jim DeMint (R) for his alleged position on the job losses that have hamstrung the state’s textile industry.
It quotes DeMint saying people need to stop “whining” about job losses and maintains he has “gone Washington” as a black limousine rolls by the Capitol.
DeMint faces state Superintendent of Education Inez Tenenbaum (D) for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Fritz Hollings (D).
While the NRSC’s ad buy is the most extensive funded by either party so far this cycle, both Senate committee have already been on the air in Alaska.
In early June, the NRSC went up with 12 days of ads on behalf of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) while the the DSCC began running commercials July 22 and remains on the air.
Murkowski, who is widely seen as the most vulnerable incumbent on the Republican side, is being challenged by former Gov. Tony Knowles (D).