Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 13, 2016

The Most Expensive Senate Race of the Cycle — So Far

Hagan's race has already witnessed a barrage of advertising. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

About halfway through the midterm election cycle, North Carolina is on pace to host the most expensive Senate race of 2014.

But the Tar Heel State shouldn’t necessarily get too comfortable in the top spot.

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s re-election battle is one of at least four Senate contests where outside spending has already eclipsed the $2 million mark. The others include the re-election races of Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The potential for Republicans to win back the Senate majority, combined with the media-market makeup of the competitive landscape, has invited a superfluity of early spending. Republicans need a net gain of six seats next year, and most of the competitive races are for Democrat-held seats in less populous states.

“Given the president’s plummeting job approval ratings, there is growing optimism that Republicans can win back the Senate, and that’s why you’re seeing some very early spending in key U.S. Senate races,” GOP media consultant Erik Potholm said. “And Democrats, especially their vulnerable incumbents, are feeling that same pressure — that’s why Sens. Landrieu and Pryor are on the air.”

The major players in outside spending so far have been Americans for Prosperity, a GOP-aligned group underwritten by the Koch brothers, and Senate Majority PAC, whose primary goal is to keep Democrats in the majority. Both groups were also highly active in the 2012 elections and were able to ramp up their spending operations early this cycle.

North Carolina has some of the largest and most expensive markets of any top Senate race states this cycle. And given the competitiveness of Hagan’s re-election bid, the early spending figures reflect that.

According to media buying figures obtained by CQ Roll Call, Republican outside groups have outspent their Democratic counterparts in North Carolina, $5.7 million to $2.6 million. That includes the $750,000 airtime purchase in early December by Senate Majority PAC and about a $4 million total investment from Americans for Prosperity.

The numbers are based on information provided by media consultants in both parties as of Dec. 10. Not all of the money was spent as independent expenditures, which must be filed to the Federal Election Commission, so exact figures were not available.

Compared with North Carolina, the spending discrepancy between the two parties is closer in other states. Democrats hope to keep pace with the GOP outside groups targeting their incumbents, as well as define Republican challengers before they can define themselves.

Senate Majority PAC Campaign Director Ty Matsdorf said the group is attempting to highlight GOP challengers — specifically North Carolina state Speaker Thom Tillis and Reps. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Tom Cotton of Arkansas — who advocate “irresponsible and dangerous policies.”

  • Pro_bono_publico

    The Democrats are desperate to hold onto Kay Hagan’s North Carolina seat in the U.S. Senate. Her election validated the time, effort and money that the national Democrat Party put into making inroads in the South generally, and North Carolina in particular. If she loses, after the massive repudiation of the Democrats at the state level, it calls into question their entire Southern strategy.

  • southerndemnut

    That is quite an overstatement and oversimplification but not entirely without merit. Hagan benefited from the impressive GOTV effort by Obama and the Democrats in 2008, the likes I have not seen in the state since Jimmy Carter ran in 1976. With that said, NC is not entirely Republican leaning unlike many other Southern states. The GOP is unpopular in the state on the local level due to the shenanigans of the Governor and legislature so you have two cross winds going on there. On the Federal level, North Carolina is a few election cycles behind Virginia but still generally considered a “purple” state. Hagan’s two principle opponents are A) Thom Tillis – speaker of the House that has almost as bad an approval rating as the US House; B) Rev. Mark Harris who will ignite the social conservatives but turn off a lot of independent and non-social conservatives. So while there might be some that will pull the R lever just to spite Obama, the GOP will also be fighting the unpopularity of the brand locally and the relative weakness of the individual candidates.

  • Scientist5

    I am hoping and praying that the GOP does not organize a circular firing squad. If it does we can kiss our American way of life goodbye – the Demos will win in 2014 and 2016. I hope copmmonsense wil prevail and EXCELLENT GOP candidates will enter the race. Let’s not eat our own!

  • cooldela1966

    Kay will win in NC because of her support for abortion, gun control, homosexual marriage, Obamacare and a larger Federal government. She is right in line with the thinking of North Carolina.

  • UnaffiliatedVoter

    If her record weren’t so DISpleasing, Hagan wouldn’t need to be wasting so much money on a dismal reelection attempt …

  • UnaffiliatedVoter

    Dr. Greg Brannon is the frontrunner. Tillis and Harris won’t make it…

  • debbie

    Dr. Greg Brannon would be a welcome addition to the US Senate. Hope N.C. elects him after Hagan’s betrayal.

  • teapartyidiots

    It’ll be Kentucky in the end.

  • teapartyidiots

    HAAHAHA. Brannon is the prime candidate to Akin himself.

  • JulianG3

    Don’t count out LA. Mary Landrieu of “Louisiana Purchase” fame is the new Chair of the Energy Committee, certain to draw in lots of cash and attention on both sides.

  • teapartyidiots

    True. But between the Dem obsession with getting rid of McConnell – and the absolute monetary disaster the GOP primary is shaping up to be – this should be the winner.

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