As the multi-million-dollar presidential campaign lingers on, a few conservative Super PACs and outside spending groups are directing their money to where the payoff is bigger: competitive races for the House of Representatives.
In a race where President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have raised $348 million and $193 million respectively, Super PACs must raise and spend gobs of money in order to define a candidate.
In Congressional races, where the average cost is between $1 million and $2 million, a Super PAC can change the course of a race with a $500,000 ad buy.
"In a presidential race, unless a group catches lightning in a bottle with an ad, it won't have that much impact," says Bill Allison, a Super PAC expert for the Sunlight Foundation, a group that monitors outside influence in elections. "In a congressional race, one ad buy can be detrimental to a campaign."
In 2010, Republican Super PACs outspent dozens of Democratic candidates in the final weeks of the election, leading to the republicans taking control of the House of Representatives.
And while experts say Republicans may have reached their pinnacle of power in the House, outside spending will still be a major factor in the 2012 congressional elections.
In 2010, Crossroads GPS, a conservative Super PAC, spent $65 million. They have already vowed to spend $100 million on congressional races alone this year.
Over the last two weeks, conservative Super PACs have dumped millions into competitive races where either the Democratic incumbent's hold on his or her district is weakening or a Republican candidate is gaining traction.
YG Action Fund, a Super PAC affiliated with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, purchased nearly $2 million in ads against embattled incumbents in North Carolina, Illinois and Massachusetts.
In North Carolina, YG Action Fund targeted Democratic Rep. Mike McIntyre, an eight-term incumbent, who's post-redistricting stomping ground is looking much more red than blue. Nearly 60 percent of the constituents in the new district voted for Republican presidential nominee John McCain in 2008.
YG Action Fund also strategically poured money into a race against Massachusetts Democrat John Tierney, who lost traction in his election after a family gambling scandal left him vulnerable to ethics attacks. YG action fund gave $818,000 to the race, which should help Tierney's gay, pro-choice Republican opponent Richard Tisei gain an edge in the state's liberal sixth district.
American Action Network, a conservative group chaired by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, also launched a $1.6 million ad campaign Monday in California, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana to promote Republican incumbents in tight races.
"This is the beginning of an aggressive effort to define liberal candidates by laying out their irresponsible records for constituents," Dan Conston, AAN's communications director said in a release.
AAN released two ads against Republican Rep. Chip Cravaak's opponent, former Rep. Rick Nolan, who AAN attacks as being on the "side of the Environmental Protection Agency." The district, in the heart of Minnesota's iron range, was a Democratic stronghold for more than three decades when the district elected Cravaak as part of the 2010 Tea Party wave. The New York Times has classified the race as a "toss-up." [See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]
AAN has also bought ads in California's 10th District, which places Republican freshman Rep. Jeff Denham up against Democrat Jose Hernandez, an astronaut who has the edge in this slightly Democratic-leaning district. In their ad, AAN paints Hernandez as a an irresponsible businessman and accuses him of moving to the district just to run for office.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, a group that supports conservative candidates in the House of Representatives, also announced its first cycle of television and internet ads over the weekend.