Spending on television ads in the Lexington area by outside groups tilts heavily toward Republican federal candidates as the GOP tries to take control of the U.S. House and hold a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky, records show.
Outside groups have bought or reserved triple the value of airtime for ads calculated to help Republicans Andy Barr and Rand Paul as compared to those for Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler and Attorney General Jack Conway.
Since August, outside pro-GOP groups have booked more than $1.1 million in ads on the four primary Lexington stations and cable systems, compared with $375,000 by groups favoring Democrats.
When spending by the candidates is added to the spending by outside groups, a total of $3.4 million in air time has been reserved on Lexington TV stations from late August through the Nov. 2 election. That figure is likely to go up.
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The Lexington market is the only one serving the 6th Congressional District, where Barr seeks to unseat Chandler. It is also the only major TV market entirely within Kentucky.
Some of the outside groups targeting the Senate race also have bought TV time elsewhere around the state.
Groups that want lower taxes and less federal regulation are helping Paul and Barr, who have been pushing a message that federal spending and the size of government must be reined in.
The anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform, for instance, booked more than $170,000 worth of air time in September and October for ads critical of Chandler.
In addition, the organization that works to elect Republicans to the U.S. House — the National Republican Congressional Committee — bought more than $260,000 worth of time in the Lexington market for September and October, records show.
With about six weeks to go before the election, no outside groups had stepped in to help Chandler.
Donald Gross, a University of Kentucky political science professor, said the outside spending to help Barr could show that some groups think he has a chance to win.
"These are not people who spend money in places where they don't think they have a chance of victory," Gross said.
Polls have consistently shown Chandler leading Barr, a Lexington lawyer, but the margin in political races often tightens in the closing weeks as more people begin paying attention and trying to make a choice. That's why the campaigns — and their outside allies — increase spending on TV ads for the last few weeks of an election.
Records show Chandler reserved more airtime in the Lexington TV market in August, September and October than Barr — $814,000 to $738,000 — but the spending by outside groups more than erases that edge.
In the Senate race, outside groups are helping Paul in an attempt to hold a seat that had been safely Republican, but is up for grabs this year.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce bought $129,000 worth of ads in Lexington attacking Conway over his support for federal health care reform.
The health care law has been a key difference in the Senate race, with Conway supporting it and Paul, a Bowling Green eye doctor, strongly opposing it.
Supporters say the law will bring insurance coverage for millions more Americans, but opponents have argued, among other things, that it will add costs to businesses.
MoveOn.org, a "progressive" organization born out of a call for Congress to stop impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, bought $14,000 worth of ads in Lexington to counter the U.S. Chamber ad.
Two groups started by influential Republican strategists also have bought TV time in Central Kentucky to help Paul.
Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies bought $122,000 worth of ads in August and September criticizing Conway over the health care law. That was part of more than $500,000 the group spent statewide.
An affiliated group, American Crossroads, bought $64,000 worth of time for ads in late September and early October trying to link Conway to liberal, national Democratic leaders who are not popular in Kentucky.
Karl Rove, a former key adviser to President George W. Bush, and other top Republicans are involved with the two groups.
Conway's campaign booked more than $137,000 in airtime in the Lexington market in September and early October. Paul's camp bought additional time this week to run ads into the first week of October, pushing his total buy in Lexington for the fall race to more than $99,000.
It's likely both candidates will buy much more time for TV ads before voters head to the polls. But they're also relying on party committees to fight for them on the airwaves.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee booked more than $405,000 worth of television time in September and October to help Paul.
Its counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has bought $361,293 worth of time for ads over the last month of the campaign, records show.