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Cash flow in Missouri U.S. Senate race is one-sided in McCaskill's favor

There’s a lot of outside funding in the Akin-McCaskill contest, but only about a fifth of it is Republican’s.

Updated: 2012-10-25T15:41:19Z

By DAVE HELLING and STEVE KRASKE

The Kansas City Star

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate” rape now appear certain to cost the Republican millions of dollars in support from outside groups in the race’s closing days, consultants and political scientists said Tuesday.

And some predicted the outside spending shortfall — estimated as high as $10 million — may end up costing him the election. Akin faces incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democrat, on Nov. 6.

“He would’ve won,” said Ken Warren, political science professor at St. Louis University. “Akin was far ahead before the gaffe. When he lost the money, he was ahead by 10 (points).”

Akin’s supporters insist he’s still within striking distance of McCaskill, even without the outside help. The congressman will rely on strong support in areas where media spending is less important, they said.

But spending figures compiled in Washington show the dramatic collapse of potential outside spending on Akin’s behalf, and what it may mean for his campaign.

Through Monday, outside groups had spent just $6.2 million in the Missouri general election Senate race, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign spending monitoring group.

Of that, only about $1.3 million went to help Akin.

Six years ago, outside groups spent almost 10 times as much — roughly $12 million — to help incumbent GOP Sen. Jim Talent, who ultimately lost to McCaskill.

Akin’s controversial remarks, political observers said, may have cost him a similar outside investment, $10 million in lost ad purchases by such groups as the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican National Committee, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others.

All were expected to be involved in this fall’s hotly contested Missouri race, given McCaskill’s perceived vulnerability and the possibility of a Republican takeover of the Senate.

But in August, the outside groups said publicly they would not spend money in Missouri if Akin remained in the race following his rape and abortion remarks, even though he apologized for them. To date, they have stuck with that commitment.

Mitt Romney “himself, let’s not forget, asked him to step aside on this issue,” noted Jim Staab, chairman of the political science department at the University of Central Missouri. “I think those (financial) numbers you see are a reflection of that.”

Akin’s closing-days challenge has been exacerbated by his own relatively weak fundraising.

Federal Election Commission records show McCaskill has raised $15.8 million for her own campaign through the end of September, compared with Akin’s $3.8 million. That means the Democrat can far outspend the GOP nominee in the final days leading up to the election.

In an email, Akin’s campaign conceded its dramatic cash disadvantage, but isn’t conceding defeat.

“Claire McCaskill spent $7 million in the third quarter and is outspending our campaign by at least 7 to 1, yet she is losing,” said Akin campaign spokesman Ryan Hite.

During campaign stops, Akin has at times made a point of the lack of support from party leadership. However, he has maintained that he can win without it.

Last-minute help from outside groups may have disappeared once Akin criticized party leaders by name, said GOP consultant Jeff Roe of Kansas City.

“Attacking them for the last six weeks probably hasn’t helped,” Roe noted. “In fact, it has cost him $10 million.”

The fundraising shortfall remains a central focus of Akin’s own campaign. In another email sent Tuesday — this one to supporters — campaign manager Perry Akin said they should approach donors again. “We need resources NOW in order to compete with McCaskill.”

The lack of cash is reflected in local television advertising. In mid-October, McCaskill’s campaign spent $52,000 in one week to buy 87 commercials on one local station. Two weeks later, Akin spent $3,500 at the same station for six spots.

McCaskill also spent roughly $54,000 to buy commercials on WDAF-TV this week, including commercials in the World Series, according to records. Last week, Akin spent $7,463 for 16 commercials.

Outside interest groups have not made up the difference for Akin, but a few are supporting his campaign.

Freedom’s Defense Fund has spent $185,562 to date, part of a promised $250,000 effort on Akin’s behalf. The Faith Family Freedom Fund purchased roughly $13,000 in radio ads this week. And the National Rifle Association is helping, as is National Right to Life.

But McCaskill still enjoys a significant advantage. Majority PAC has invested almost $3 million on her behalf, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee gave $2.3 million, including money spent before the August primary.

By contrast, conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity, Crossroads GPS and the Club for Growth are not chipping in for Akin.

Ironically, before Akin’s comments on rape in August, McCaskill complained loudly and often about the potential influence of outside spending in her race.

“People will look back … at the money that’s been spent by outside forces and say this is an election that shows whether or not these anonymous masters of the universe can buy these elections,” McCaskill told The New York Times. “If it works in Missouri, then I think we’re in for a rough ride in this country.”

But McCaskill spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki said the Democrat’s concern has never been about all outside spending. Instead, McCaskill is more worried about anonymous spending by nonprofit social welfare organizations.

“Her concern … was the outside groups that refused to disclose their donors,” Legacki said. “Claire believes that honest and accurate disclosure is critical.”

Yet the decision to stay out of Missouri hasn’t completely ended spending by outside groups, both liberal and conservative. Instead, it has gone to other states where both parties believe they may be more competitive than in Missouri.

Outside groups have spent nearly $30 million in Virginia’s U.S. Senate race. They’ve contributed $25 million in Ohio and $10.9 million in North Dakota.

Still, that pales in comparison with independent spending in the race for president. In that race, outside groups have spent almost $300 million.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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