Washington — Big money is already being spent in the race for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman’s seat, but this is just the beginning of the expected blowout.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, only one state, Florida, spent more money on a Senate race in 2010, when Republican Linda McMahon ran against former Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
Nearly $67 million was spent on that Connecticut race, most of that money McMahon’s, but Blumenthal won the seat.
In this year’s contest, more than $8 million has already been spent, and again, McMahon leads in spending. The other main candidates are former Republican Rep. Chris Shays, vying against McMahon for the GOP nomination, and Democrats Rep. Chris Murphy and former Democratic Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz.
Of this year’s 33 Senate races, Connecticut is currently ranked 10th in spending, and it’s likely to move up the ladder.
Massachusetts, where there is a brawl between Republican Sen. Scott Brown and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren, is No. 1, with about $14 million already spent. Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report, which has classified the Connecticut Senate race as “Likely Democratic,” said more competitive races in other states may spend more money.
“Connecticut won’t be one of the marquee races of the cycle until or unless it gets to the “toss up” column,” Duffy said.
But, she said, “given that 26 percent of Connecticut’s voters are in the New York City media market, one of the two most expensive in the country,” statewide races in the state “are expensive by nature.”
Vincent Moscardelli, political science professor at the University of Connecticut, said he’d be “stunned” if this year’s Senate race isn’t as costly as the last.
“Remember, Chris Murphy spent $3 million in his bid to unseat (former 5th District Rep.) Nancy Johnson. That was 50 percent more than the average successful challenger spent that year and over twice as much as the average winner spent that year,” Moscardelli said. “He’s no stranger to expensive campaigns, and with Linda McMahon obviously prepared to open the checkbook again, the eventual Democratic nominee is going to have to raise a ton of cash to be heard.”
So far, McMahon has loaned her campaign about $5 million — more than $1 million since the beginning of the month.
Murphy has raised about $4.4 million and Bysiewicz nearly $2 million. Shays has raised nearly $1.5 million.
Buying up the airwaves
David Doebler, president of NBC Connecticut, said he’s received calls from all the Senate campaigns requesting ad prices.
“Based on all that interest … we expect a lot of activity, but it’s too soon to tell.”
Steve Rabb, senior manager of special projects and research at CT1 media, which owns Fox CT and WCCT, said he expected an ad blitz similar to the one that roiled the airwaves two years ago.
Rabb said CT1 sold $12 to $15 million advertising for the Connecticut Senate race two years ago and hopes to earn as much this year.
“It’s going to be hard fought,” Rabb said of the race.
This year’s Connecticut Senate race is more important than the one two years ago because control of the Senate hangs in the balance.
Republicans need only four more seats to win the majority. Meanwhile, Democrats are at a disadvantage because 22 of their seats are up for re-election, compared with 10 Republican seats.
Then there’s Lieberman’s seat, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and helps them keep the majority in the Senate. Democrats are desperate to keep that seat.
“Democrats have to hold Connecticut if they have any chance of retaining control of the Senate this year, so the stakes both locally and nationally are very high,” Moscardelli said.
The Republican Party may not help McMahon much because she can self-fund her campaign. But the Democratic Party may help their party’s candidate, said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Shrepal Shah.
DSCC head, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, has already endorsed Murphy.
Year of the super PAC
There will also be plenty of political spending this year in Connecticut by outside groups. And it’s also the year of the super PACs, political money machines that didn’t play much of a role two years ago.
A super PAC can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals, businesses, labor unions and other groups but can’t coordinate its spending with a candidate’s campaign. They usually sponsor attack ads.
So far, super PACs supporting Republican candidates are more numerous and are raising more money than Democratic-backed super PACs.
But last month, longtime Hartford political activist Matthew J. Hennessy and other state Democrats started a super PAC called Progress Connecticut. Hennessy said he hopes his PAC will counter McMahon’s self-funding abilities and “a wall of outside money that will come in” to target the Democratic candidate in the Senate race.
McMahon has aired the first commercial of the campaign, an expensive 60-second spot.
Spending on television advertising is likely to pick up after the party conventions this month and begin in earnest after June 30. That’s because federal law requires television stations to offer the lowest rates to political candidates 45 days before an election. Connecticut’s primary is Aug. 14.
But the real ad blitz is expected to come in the weeks before November’s general election.
“We won’t see much advertising for President Obama because Connecticut falls pretty squarely into the deep blue camp when it comes to presidential politics these days,” Moscardelli, of UConn, said.
“But I expect to be inundated with advertisements for the Senate race regardless of who wins these nomination battles.”