The midterm elections are more than nine months away, but if you live in a state where the race for a U.S. Senate seat is going to be close, it may feel like Election Day is a lot closer.
That is because political advocacy groups, including Americans for Prosperity, are pouring millions of dollars into those races. Their decision, to run ads early, goes against conventional wisdom, which says it is a better investment to air ads closer to an election.
“I’m not sure there is conventional wisdom anymore,” says Whit Ayers, a Republican political consultant and the founder and president of North Star Opinion Research.
That is thanks, in part, to outside spending. It used to be groups wouldn’t spend a dollar now, because they were worried about running out later. With many more dollars in play, the economics of campaigning have changed.
“This is a whole new world of politics, where there is certainly no cookbook on how to do things right,” Ayres says, noting conservatives see an opportunity to make the Affordable Care Act the defining issue of 2014.
“It makes a lot of sense, from my perspective, to strike while the iron is hot.”
That is what an organization called Americans for Prosperity, which is backed by the Koch brothers, is doing. I reached Tim Phillips, the group’s president, in Montana, where he just announced a $1.8 million ad buy.
“We are determined to make Obamacare front and center, the number one issue for the American people,” he says.
The organization’s strategy has been to use politicians’ words against them, as in this ad, targeting Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA).
So far, Phillips says Americans for Prosperity has spent $22 million, adding “we expect to spend substantially more than that in coming months.”
Democrats are in a tough spot, says Steve Jarding who managed senate campaigns for Democratic candidates before he became a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“They could spend early money to try to compete with this, and actually run out of money late,” he says.
That is not something Republicans have to worry about. Jarding says that, before long, we will be inundated by ads.
"Pretty soon you have ads going essentially year-round year after year.”
And that is what groups like Americans for Prosperity want. Its president says the organization will keep at it after the election is over.