WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Party is spending $2.5 million on television advertising in Nevada during the final two weeks leading to Election Day in a bid to protect endangered Sen. Harry Reid, sources said Wednesday.
The airtime being purchased by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) is intended to help Reid, the highest profile incumbent as Senate majority leader, withstand a barrage of anticipated advertising from Republican-aligned groups, plus late spending by GOP challenger Sharron Angle, they said.
According to Republicans who watch advertising buys, the DSCC has reserved $1.2 million worth of airtime in Nevada for next week, and $1.3 million for the week after that, leading to the Nov. 2 election.
"Clearly, national Democrats are seeing the same polls we are and Harry Reid is not nearly as confident as he publicly claims to be," said Brian Walsh, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Officials at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did not comment, saying they do not discuss ad buys or strategy.
According to a report by the National Journal Hotline, this would be the Democratic Party's first TV spending in the Nevada Senate race. Up to now, most pro-Reid commercials have been sponsored by the candidate or by the allied Patriot Majority PAC. The Patriot Majority PAC has spent almost $1.5 million this year, according to the Federal Election Commission and the Washington Post.
On the Republican side, Angle's advertising has been supplemented by the Tea Party Express, the conservative Club for Growth and American Crossroads, which was founded by Republican consultants Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie.
"Our campaign has no control over outside groups that choose to participate in this race, including Karl Rove's shady pro-Angle front group that's dumped millions into false and misleading ads attacking Sen. Reid," Reid spokesman Kelly Steele said.
The liberal MoveOn.org estimated in a report this week that $2.9 million "has been spent by corporate and right-wing special interests to help elect Sharron Angle."
The Reid-Angle contest seems to have taken on added urgency in the wake of Angle's announcement this week she raised $14.3 million over the past three months, which analysts described as an extraordinary sum. Polls show the duo statistically are deadlocked.
Angle has spent much of her near-record haul to remain competitive in the race, and her campaign said she will disclose at the end of the week how much she has left for the final weeks.
Republicans said Wednesday new money continues to flow to Angle, and Reid also is continuing to reach out to donors. Reid, who has raised $19 million through June, is expected to file an updated campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission by a Friday deadline.
The Reid campaign cited Angle's fundraising haul in a pitch to donors on Tuesday. It issued a new appeal on Wednesday, tied to a Suffolk University poll that showed Reid ahead of the challenger by 3 percentage points, 46-43.
"That's proof that our grass-roots team is making a difference," campaign manager Brandon Hall said in an e-mail.
"But there is danger ahead," Hall said. American Crossroads, the Tea Party Express "and other national conservative elements are preparing a last minute barrage of negative attacks."
The national Republican Party organization that has had advisers in Nevada for weeks plans additional spending as well on Angle's behalf.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee will spend $600,000 to bolster "get-out-the-vote" efforts against a well-organized Reid and Democratic Party operation.
While ramping up in Nevada, Democrats are spending considerably less than they had planned in Missouri this week, where Democrat Robin Carnahan is struggling in her race again Republican Rep. Roy Blunt.
Democrats have cut airtime reservations for the state in the next two weeks, too, but they still could decide to run ads during that period.
The shifts in strategy illustrate the volatile nature of the political landscape in the closing days of the election. Candidates and outside groups are setting records for spending. In House contests, Republican-allied organizations are broadening the field by injecting money against House Democrats that the party had not counted as their most vulnerable.
The Democrats' chances of winning Senate seats currently held by Republicans in Missouri, Florida, Ohio and New Hampshire have dwindled. Polls show GOP candidates in the lead. Democrat Jack Conway in Kentucky also is lagging Republican Rand Paul, but Senate Democrats still are spending money in the state. They say Conway still has a strong chance of winning.
With candidates and outside groups seeking to command airspace, political advertising is setting new records this year. A new analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project at Wesleyan University in Connecticut shows that since Labor Day, ad spending on House and Senate races has reached nearly $200 million, up from $113 million for the same period in 2008.
Candidates account for most of the spending, but outside groups are second, devoting $37 million to House and Senate races. Republican-leaning groups have outspent Democratic groups during that period by a margin on 9-1 in House and Senate contests, according to Michael Franz, a professor at Bowdoin College in Maine and co-director of the media project. House and Senate candidates have spent about $130 million, with Democrats outspending Republicans by a margin of 1.5-to-one.
Facing an energized Republican electorate and the onslaught of outside money, Democrats are shifting TV ad money daily, reducing spending where polling shows their candidates lagging and ramping up in House and Senate races they think they have a better chance of winning. Democrats are not likely to pull all ads in a state, eager to avoid the perception that they have given up on a candidate. Moreover, they can always pour more money into a state if polls show a race tightening.
The spike in outside group money coincides with a consolidated attack by the White House, the Democratic Party and their liberal allies on Republican-leaning outside groups that have already spent millions of dollars supporting Republican candidates without having to disclose their donors.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.