FRANKFORT — Candidates and outside interest groups have spent nearly $4 million to sway voters in Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District race between Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler and Republican Andy Barr.
The heavy spending on TV ads in the race is "quite a lot for a U.S. House race in a poor state," said Don Dugi, a political science professor at Lexington's Transylvania University.
A possible consequence, he said, is lower voter turnout.
"A lot of negative TV ads usually create voter fatigue from seeing all those bloody commercials," Dugi said. "They take motivation away from voting, which usually helps Republicans in districts where they are in the minority."
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In the 19-county district, Democrats outnumber Republicans 1,665,853 to 1,151,331.
A review of TV ad buys in the Lexington market shows that the campaigns of Chandler and Barr have spent a combined $1.1 million for TV ads in the last three weeks of their tight, contentious race.
Since the May primary election, Chandler and Barr have spent a combined $2.4 million on television advertising. Their TV spending before Oct. 16 — about $1.3 million — was split almost equally between the two candidates.
Since then, Chandler has shelled out $623,905 for TV ads and Barr has spent $520,500.
Independent candidate Randolph Vance is running a limited campaign and is not advertising. Barr is a Lexington attorney who lost to Chandler in the 2010 race by 648 votes.
Meanwhile, out-of-state interest groups, especially conservative activist Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, have poured $454,520 into the Lexington TV market in the last three weeks.
That raises total spending on TV ads by outside groups to about $1.5 million. Two-thirds of that spending has beneffited Barr.
The heavy spending by conservative groups shows that "Andy Barr's campaign is on life support," said Eric Nagy, Chandler's campaign manager.
"He has been kept afloat by outside groups until now, but Kentuckians are sick of his negative attack ads," Nagy said.
David Host, a spokesman for the Barr campaign, said Barr started his campaign at a significant fund-raising disadvantage given that Chandler is a "career politician."
"Since then, he has worked extremely hard to level the financial playing field with the help of a lot of people who have donated to his campaign," Host said.
In the last three weeks, Americans for Tax Reform has been the biggest out-of-state buyer of Lexington TV ads, spending about $330,000. It had not bought any TV ads in the race until Oct. 18.
Calls to ATR for comment were not returned.
ATR says on its Web site that Chandler signed its "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" to oppose higher taxes, but "he has broken his written commitment to the taxpayers" by voting for the Obama-backed "cap and trade" bill to curb greenhouse emissions from coal-powered plants.
Barr has also signed the ATR pledge.
Center Forward, a liberal group that has run ads benefiting Chandler, has spent $123,725 since Oct. 16. Before then, it had spent $82,490.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has been on the air in Lexington since Sept. 21, bought $616,982 of air time through Nov. 6, according to a review of the public ad file at WKYT-TV.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee bought $265,012 of air time in the contest. Its advertising buy ran through Oct. 29.