Independent expenditures on television ads have to be reported to the FEC only after they are spent, making it difficult to determine the parties' exact plans. And like good football coaches, party officials are careful not to reveal their playbooks.
Observers also relate the money game to a hand of poker in which one side hopes to try to force the other to guess where it will be spending its resources as time winds down. Democrats have been holding their cards close to the vest, waiting on many ad buys until they can have the most effect. "They've been doing a different strategy than Republicans," Wood says. "Republicans have been spending money fairly early. On the other hand, Democrats have been trying to keep their powder dry. They've been playing this game of chicken so they can make sure they're only spending in important races."