Democratic Senate candidates in key 2014 primary states have two big concerns right now: one is what kind of Republican gets the GOP nomination and the other is Americans for Prosperity. And it’s the second that might be a bigger problem for Democrats this fall.
The group has continually hit red-state Senate Democrats — not just on Obamacare but also on topics important to their respective states. Recently the group released a new ad hitting Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) on the environment.
Unlike virtually every other conservative outside group that’s spent most of 2014 fueling one side of the GOP Civil War, Americans for Prosperity — backed by the wealthy billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch — has acted like the adult in the room, pouring money into attacking the presumptive Democratic candidates. This tactic has kept Democrats in a more defensive crouch than what would normally happen while an opposing party’s primary rages on.
“What they are doing is defining their opponent rather early,” said Democratic strategist Penny Lee, a former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), of AFP’s attacks on Democrats so far this cycle. “Some of their ads are effective, reinforcing the negative image or the negative or Obamacare or ACA or whatever you want to call it. So candidates do have to pay attention to it. I think what it also does is cause candidates spend money earlier than they had originally wanted to.”
AFP’s involvement also creates a silver lining for Democrats, Lee said.
“It allows them to make a stronger appeal to raise more money,” Lee said. “So it allows them on a national scale to realize they are under unfairly being attacked, their record is being distorted and they’re going to need the funds and resources because this is a truly competitive race.”
Even so, Democrats openly acknowledge that Americans for Prosperity is spending a serious about of money on the top races.
“Republican opponents, for the most part up and down the map, are not raising as much money as Democratic incumbents. Obviously any countless millions that AFP has are harder to match,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said.
Prominent Democratic organizations and super PACs have also begun to take aim at countering AFP and other organizations that either have or will eventually start attacking Democrats (once the dust from the bloody GOP primaries are settled).
According to figures shared by a Democratic source that tracks media buys, AFP has dropped hundreds of thousands of dollars in Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina and New Hampshire with millions going into anti-Democratic ads in Louisiana, Michigan and North Carolina — states that could very easily fall into Republican hands this election cycle. Here’s how Democrats have responded in these states:
In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), facing a tough reelection fight, has also had to weather AFP spending big bucks in opposition to an Obamacare Medicaid expansion there. AFP has also released ads hitting Landrieu for supporting Obamacare. Landrieu, by contrast, hasn’t fully retreated from Obamacare but also made sure to show she doesn’t see it as a perfect law. Her first ad of the cycle focused on the bill she introduced that let Americans keep their old healthcare plans under Obamacare as long as they keep paying their premiums. Landrieu’s campaign has also repeatedly highlighted misleading details about the AFP ads, such as that they feature paid actors rather than average Louisianans.
One of the most surprisingly close match ups this election cycle is Michigan where Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI) increasingly looks to have a serious race on his hand as he prepares to run against former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R) in the general election. AFP has jumped on the bandwagon. AFP is spending roughly $1.6 million on advertising hitting Peters on his support for Obamacare, according to Politico. A recent AFP ad there features a cancer patient criticizing Peters. Multiple media outlets have noted inconsistencies with aspects of the ad. Lawyers for the Peters campaign have also urged local media outlets running the ad to take it down.
Arguably no vulnerable Democrat has been hit harder than Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC). Hagan, despite sitting opposite a set of bickering Republican primary contenders fiercely picking at each other, the North Carolina Democrat is still vulnerable. AFP has dropped over $8 million on Hagan’s race alone so far and there’s more likely to come. Hagan’s campaign, in response has worked to closely link AFP’s attacks to North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis ( R), the likely Republican nominee for Senate. Hagan’s campaign has argued that the Koch brothers, through AFP and sister organizations, have used Tillis to pass their “special interest agenda.”
“Basically, when it comes to these outside interests it’s about a contrast,” Hagan campaign communications director Sadie Weiner told TPM. “It’s about showing that Kay is working for North Carolina first and putting North Carolina’s middle class families and their needs at the top of her priority list versus her opponents who are following the special interest agenda.”