-By Paul Blumenthal
September 13, 2012- WASHINGTON — All eyes are fixed on the money race between President Barack Obama, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and the outside groups cheering them on with attack ads. That attention may allow one of the biggest money stories in the 2012 election to fly under the radar. In the fight for control of the Senate, a coalition of conservative groups have pummelled Democratic senators and candidates in the nation's closest races for more than a year in an attempt to wrest control of the chamber and make Sen. Mitch McConnell the next Majority Leader.
Since the beginning of last year, these conservative groups have poured more than $50 million into ads — both those reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and so-called "issue" ads that are not — targeting seven of the closest Senate races in the country, according to sources in Democratic campaigns, other ad-watching sources, and a series of publicly-reported figures and those collected from news reports and press releases. This compares to the slightly more than $20 million spent by liberal-allied groups on ads in these seven races.
The seven Senate races surveyed include Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Three have already seen more than $10 million spent against the Democratic candidate, and in only one race is the disparity between conservative outside group spending and liberal outside group spending less than $1 million.
"It's certainly taking a toll," said Justin Baransky, communications director for Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown's campaign. "Almost all polls show the gap in the race closing."
Brown, a first-term senator from Ohio, has seen the most ad spending by outside groups of anyone outside of the presidential race. According to the campaign, conservative groups have spent $17.1 million to knock him off. Supporters of Brown have spent only $4.1 million. He has held a steady lead over State Treasurer Josh Mandel, although the polls are tightening.
The campaign believes the closing gap is solely due to the outside spending. "It really is the only reason that Mandel has a chance in this race," Baransky said.