"We're not going to wait for the environment we're given," Engstrom said. "We want to shape the environment now."
The outside groups also talk to each other — legally. The Chamber aired 10 days of ads against McCaskill and the Karl Rove-inspired American Crossroads challenged the Democratic senator as well in a concerted attempt. On Thursday, McCaskill, who had $4.8 million cash on hand at the end of December, responded with a commercial in her defense that highlighted the criticism and included the line, "They're not from around here, spending millions to attack and attack."
"There's no doubt we're going to be outspent," Murray said. "But as Claire or any of our other candidates will tell you, we're not going to be outworked. And I think Claire's message in her campaign is exactly right. That it's outside groups coming in and trying to influence the people of her state."
American Crossroads is a super PAC and Crossroads GPS its sister advocacy non-profit. In 2011, Crossroads GPS spent more than $7 million on issue ads in Nebraska, Montana, Massachusetts, Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Missouri that were tied to the raging debate in Washington over deficit cutting and raising the nation's borrowing authority. Nebraska's Nelson faced one of those ads.
All total this year, American Crossroads has set a goal of raising $240 million to be spent on the presidential race and Senate and House contests.
Recently, as Bob Kerrey weighed whether to pursue the open Nebraska seat, American Crossroads spent $30,000 on five days of radio ads skewering the former Democratic governor and senator. The ad cast Kerrey as a carpetbagger and poked fun at his time in New York as former president of the New School in Greenwich Village who "thought about running for mayor of New York City." It was just a small taste of what he could expect if he returned to Nebraska to seek the Senate seat.
Kerrey decided against running, saying, "I have chosen what I believe is best for my family and me."
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