Koch Network, Others Spend $100 Million On Five Senate Races

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Phillip Stucky Political Reporter
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Special interest groups like the Koch Network and the Chamber of Commerce invested almost $100 million across five Senate races, which could decide the party that controls the Senate in 2017.

Non-profit and other outside interest groups spent $95.5 million as of Tuesday in key Senate races in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Staffers told The Washington Post that a majority of the spending came from unusually high TV ad rates in large cities like Cleveland and Philadelphia. The rest of the money funded direct mailing efforts and door-knocking campaigns, according to The Washington Post.

The vast majority of the funds originated from non-profit, issue-based groups, meaning an ad may not formally endorse a candidate, but is allowed to advertise a specific issue. Ad campaigns paid for by non-profits are allowed to name the candidate who most closely aligns with the group on that particular issue. Such groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch Network, and Democratic-allied interests, account for $47 million of the funds.

Non-profit groups most heavily targeted voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania. More than $30 million went to Senate candidates in both state, mostly to support the Republican incumbent.

Former Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland opposes Republican incumbent Rob Portman in the Ohio Senate race. The latest Emerson poll gave Portman a 15 percent lead, a standing that is safely outside of the margin of error. As a result of Portman’s increased lead, the Koch network announced in late August the group planned to cancel ad buys in Ohio.

Pennsylvania isn’t as favorable for Republicans as Ohio, Democrat Katie McGinty leads by a small margin over Rep. Sen. Pat Toomey. McGinty maintains a 1.8 percent lead according to the Real Clear Average.

Republicans currently have 54 seats in the Senate, compared to the Democrat’s 48 seats. Democrats only have 10 Senate seats up for reelection this year, while Republicans have 24 contested seats. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin are the most vulnerable, and the remaining Senate races are considered fairly safe for either party.

Nevada’s Senate race is perhaps the most interesting, because it doesn’t feature a Republican incumbent fighting a Democratic challenger. Sen. Harry Reid announced he plans to retire, and supported Democrat Catherine Masto against Republican Joe Heck to replace him. The polls have reflected a statistical tie between the two candidates since May. Name recognition is low for both candidates, which means either has the potential to win in November.

The Nevada race has a comparatively small $14.6 million in outside spending, although New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte only received a $6.8 million boost against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

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