The political group linked to the conservative Koch brothers has canceled television ad time reserved in October for the race between Sen. Jeff Merkley and Republican challenger Monica Wehby. Freedom Partners spokesman James Davis confirmed the decision Friday. Politico reported Wednesday that Freedom Partners officials acknowledged the possibility of canceling October ads if polling didn't show Wehby making headway.
It didn't get too much attention at the time, but in mid-August, the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners network quietly made an announcement. The conservative operation had purchased $1.1 million in television time in Michigan, apparently in the hopes of boosting Terri Lynn Land's (R) Senate campaign, but the group "abruptly canceled the ads."
The unspoken message wasn't subtle: the Kochs and their fellow financiers are going to have to start making investment decisions as Election Day draws closer, and if it looks like a race isn't going to go well for Republicans, the conservative benefactors will cut their losses. In Michigan, that apparently means the Kochs don't see Terri Lynn Land prevailing.
She's not the only one.
In fairness, it's worth noting that the Koch brothers' operation still has attack ads on the air in Oregon, going after Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) for a variety of perceived misdeeds, but it's now clear that Freedom Partners no longer sees Wehby as especially viable. As the race enters the final stretch, the Republican won't have the support she was hoping for.
I've seen some Democrats point to this as an encouraging development for their side of the aisle. I'm not so sure.
Keep in mind, for example, that the money the Kochs intended to invest in Oregon won't just go back into investors' pockets -- it's going to be redirected to the other races. And in this case, that means more money to help Republicans in other more competitive races.
But just as important is the fact that the Oregon contest was always considered a longshot for Republicans. The fact that Freedom Partners even bothered with this race at all was an example of misplaced ambition. If the Kochs were still optimistic about Oregon, Democrats would have real reason for panic.
Regardless, these kinds of decisions are going to become more common over the next couple of weeks. Both parties' campaign committees, PACs, super PACs, et al, will look at a limited pool of resources, consider the landscape, and start making tough calls about which candidates are genuinely positioned to win and which aren't.
As we talked about last week, there's just no way to bluff -- once ad buys are cancelled, it's obvious exactly what those who bought the ads are thinking. As the map starts to narrow, if you want to know exactly which races the insiders consider the most competitive, follow the money.
* Postscript: Speaking of the Koch brothers -- who are airing an "absolutely breathtaking" number of campaign ads -- I'd be remiss if I neglected to mention Richard Fink, the Kochs' top political strategist, who recently led a presentation in which Fink shared some truly bizarre ideas, including the notion that the minimum wage somehow leads to fascism.
One wonders what the Republican Senate candidates who credit the Kochs for the strength of their campaigns have to say about such a perspective.