The party, Jesmer says, still has a good chance of taking the Senate from Democrats. "But if we don't, the story is going to be that outside money saved these guys."
Republican complaints about a lack of late-cycle funding are being met with guffaws from Democrats, who point out—rightly—that the GOP benefitted from an unprecedented early spending blitz from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The Koch brothers-backed organization spent upwards of $40 million on a handful of important Senate races, and that likely means Republicans have already spent far more in most battlegrounds.
Yet still, the early deluge of pro-GOP spending has now been matched and, in some places, exceeded by Democrats, leaving Republicans struggling to keep up.
Why outside groups are turning off the spigot now is a mystery to GOP strategists. Some say donors were unhappy with the performance of outside groups in 2012, have viewed the NRSC skeptically for back-to-back cycles, or are afraid of receiving the same treatment that befell Charles and David Koch at the hands of Majority Leader Harry Reid, who relentlessly and publicly maligned the brothers this year.
Indeed, the political empire founded by the duo, for all of its early spending, has not been the source of infinite cash that some GOP operatives had once hoped. They appear content instead to build a small army of paid staffers and volunteers in swing states such as North Carolina.
Regardless, the problem for Republicans in races that could still go either way is about to become more pronounced as the final month of the campaign season begins.
Democratic and Republican sources tracking ad buys in Senate races describe a landscape that, for now, shows big gaps in Republican spending. In Colorado, for instance, Crossroads GPS, the nonprofit arm of the Karl Rove-aligned American Crossroads, has spent or is slated to spend millions of dollars in on-air spots from mid-September to mid-October. But it hasn't reserved so much as a dime in airtime during the race's final two weeks.
Two other groups—Freedom Partners, another organization affiliated with the Koch brothers, and the NRSC—each have modest buys worth less than $1 million declared for the back half of October. And their combined totals barely match what the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is scheduled to spend in a single week.
In fact, the DSCC and the Senate Majority PAC, a group staffed by close allies of Reid, have reserved more than $4.5 million combined in the season's final weeks.
The gaps extend to other battlegrounds. One official at the NRSC who tracks media buys said Democrats and their allies have spent or already reserved $23 million more in TV ads between Sept. 1 and Election Day in seven Senate races—Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Virginia. (Virginia and Minnesota are both considered fringe opportunities for the GOP.)