Now that the Republican establishment’s preferred candidates have made it through primaries in Kentucky and Georgia, expect to see even more campaign cash pouring into those states. In fact, with many of the key general election matchups now set and control of the Senate up for grabs, the political money floodgates are set to open in unprecedented fashion.
In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, easily dispatched tea party favorite Matt Bevin Tuesday. Meanwhile in Georgia, two Republicans favored by GOP power-brokers, businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston, qualified for a July runoff, beating a group of candidates seen as less electable.
This fall will be the first midterm where Super PACs, which were spawned in large part by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, will be fully engaged. That year, Republican Super PACs played a limited role in helping the Tea Party wave, but Democrats, still uneasy with the new campaign finance landscape, declined to get involved. That's not the case this time.
Many national Republican groups had been in a holding pattern in Georgia, waiting to see who would emerge from the crowded primary field. But now that they feel assured of having a strong candidate to take on Democrat Michelle Nunn, they’re already sounding more eager to get involved.
“We see a much stronger opportunity in this race now for a Republican to beat Michelle Nunn,” said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for American Crossroads, the Republican Super PAC created by Karl Rove.
But it’s Kentucky, where McConnell is neck-and-neck in polls with Democrat Allson Lundergan Grimes, that figures to be the highest profile Senate race in the country—and a magnet for political money on both sides. For Democrats, knocking off the Republican leader—especially a vastly experienced partisan knife-fighter like McConnell—would be a major coup. And that means the race is perhaps the top priority for the GOP, too.
McConnell is a master fundraiser, and as of mid-April he’d spent nearly $11.4 million—what Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics called a “pretty huge number”—to defeat Bevin, who had little institutional support. For purposes of comparison, that’s not much less than the $13.7 million raised through election day by both major candidates, Rand Paul and Jack Conway, in the state’s last Senate race in 2010.
And McConnell will get plenty of support. The pro-McConnell Super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership will unveil a $575,000 attack ad campaign Wednesday, Politico reported. Steven Law, the CEO of American Crossroads and McConnell’s former chief of staff, sits on the group’s board. Then the nonprofit Kentucky Opportunity Coalition will spend nearly $4.7 million on its own negative ads, to run through August 27. The ads will aim to tie Grimes to Obama and Democratic congressional leaders, who are unpopular in Kentucky.
Not that everyone's rushing to support the GOP Senate leader. Adam Brandon, a spokesman for Freedomworks, the Washington-based grassroots advocacy group that backed Bevin in the primary, said his group would be guided by its members, but added: "I can't see a world in which we'd support Mitch McConnell."
Grimes, too, has already raked in big bucks—over $8 million—helped by an all-star lineup of national Democratic rainmakers who have worked for President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Last fall, Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg emailed Democrats to urge them to support Grimes. "There is no more important election being held next year in this country," wrote Katzenberg, who reportedly has made the race his biggest priority for the midterms. "She can win, and she will win if she gets the support she needs."
Of course, a host of other Senate races, some of which could end up being closer than Kentucky and Georgia’s, are also attracting major dollars. American Crossroads plans to spend nearly $10 million in the coming weeks on ads attacking Democrats in four competitive races—North Carolina, Arkansas, Alaska, and Colorado, Politico reported Monday.
And Americans for Prosperity, the non-profit backed by the Koch Brothers, plans to spend $125 million, perhaps much more, on ads and turnout operations in support of conservatives in races across the country. Already, the group has spent over 435 million attacking Democrats in key Senate races.