Conservative group fires first shot in U.S. Senate race ad war

Attorney General Jack Conway
Attorney General Jack Conway

An expected wave of outside advertising spending has started in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race.

A group called Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies began airing a television ad critical of Attorney General Jack Conway late Tuesday.

The ad, which targets Conway over his stance on the federal health care overhaul Congress approved, will air for two weeks on TV stations in Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green and Paducah, according to Crossroads GPS.

The group will spend $520,000 to air the ad. In the Lexington TV market, that translates to $57,568 a week, according to the public political-ad file at WKYT-TV.

"When Jack Conway had to choose between defending Barack Obama's agenda and defending Kentucky, he chose Obama," Steven Law, director of Crossroads GPS, said in a news release about the ad.

Conway, the Democratic nominee, has said he supports the health care reforms and refused to join in a lawsuit some other states have filed to challenge the law.

The ad is the first by an independent group to hit the TV airwaves in the race between Conway and the Republican nominee, Bowling Green eye doctor Rand Paul, but it almost certainly won't be the last.

The reason: "Kentucky is a key state for control of the Senate," said Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for Crossroads GPS.

Democrats see the race as a chance to take over what has long been a GOP seat by painting Paul's libertarian-leaning views as extreme, while Republicans will work to saddle Conway with Obama and other party leaders unpopular in Kentucky during a time of high unemployment and record federal red ink.

With the race close, the parties and independent groups — not to mention the candidates — will pour in money to try to eke out the win.

For instance, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reportedly reserved $1.3 million worth of ad space on Kentucky television stations through the Nov. 2 election. In the Lexington TV market, the DSCC has reserved spots worth $360,854 that are set to start airing on Oct. 5, according to the file at WKYT.

Conway's campaign issued a statement saying the new Crossroads GPS ad is a "bailout" for Paul's campaign produced by the very brand of Washington insiders that Paul ran against in the primary.

Conway's campaign said the political-issues group American Crossroads was behind the ad and said former Bush administration official Karl Rove runs the group.

Inez banker Mike Duncan, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a prolific fund-raiser for the party, is chairman of American Crossroads.

"American Crossroads' shadowy operations and secret donations exemplify everything Rand Paul said he wanted to get out of politics," Allison Haley, Conway's spokeswoman, said in a news release.

American Crossroads has disclosed donors to the Internal Revenue Service, but Crossroads GPS is not required to do so.

One of the biggest contributors so far to American Crossroads has been B. Wayne Hughes, a giant in the public-storage business who is listed on state documents as manager of Spendthrift Farm.

He has given the group $1.55 million since it started in March, according to its filings with the IRS.

Collegio said American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS are not the same entity, however.

They share some staffers but have separate boards and legal structures, said Collegio, who serves as a spokesman for both.

Law, who worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, is president and CEO of American Crossroads and heads Crossroads GPS.

American Crossroads is a 527 — named for the section of the federal tax code under which it is organized — and Crossroads GPS is an issue-advocacy group set up under section 501(c)4, Collegio said.

In practical terms, both can spend money aimed at trying to help Paul and hurt Conway, but they have to do it a bit differently.

For instance, Crossroads GPS can't run an ad asking people directly to vote for Paul. But it can say — as it does in the new TV ad — that Conway's position is wrong and that voters should urge him to change it.

The health care bill looks to be one of the persistent issues in the race between Paul and Conway.

Opponents say the law will push up taxes and insurance premiums, and they object to its requirement for people to buy insurance — or pay a penalty — as an unconstitutional overreach of government authority.

Supporters of the law argue it will mean insurance coverage for many more Americans, in addition to other benefits.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluded the law will reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 32 million by 2019, though 23 million more still would not have insurance.

Premium costs will increase for some people, the CBO estimated, but for those in the biggest chunk of the market — employment-based coverage — the agency estimated that the change in the average premium per person would range from an increase of 1 percent to a drop of 2 percent, relative to current law.

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