In 2010, American Crossroads spent $682,000 on ads opposing Bera during the final two weeks of the campaign. That represented more than 80 percent of the outside spending that occurred in the entire race. Bera's momentum grounded to a halt after American Crossroads intervened.
"He was surging in the polls and becoming a very serious contender. The polls were going up and up and up," said Bera's current campaign spokeswoman, Allison Teixeira. "Then, big money came in from Karl Rove's super PAC and started airing all kinds of negative ads. It was still a tight race, but he (Bera) lost his momentum from that."
In the end, Lungren won by a margin of 50.1 percent to 43.2 percent. Outside groups have already spent more than $5 million on the race this year. Democratic-aligned groups have more than matched the nearly $500,000 the Chamber of Commerce has spent opposing Bera. The House Majority PAC has spent nearly $400,000 on ads opposing Lungren and the Service Employees International Union PAC spent a like amount. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees also spent $800,000 opposing Lungren in the final week of September.
National Democrats made two tactical decisions to minimize the impact of a late surge in outside spending from GOP groups. They decided to purchase air time early in the race and also placed more emphasis on raising money directly for House candidates rather than Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee itself.
Democratic officials explained that in some TV markets, candidates pay only one-third the rate that third-party groups are charged for ad time.
National Republicans said the outside money is welcome because it will help counter spending by labor unions.
"Labor has always been this shadow army for Democrats in elections and a lot of the money they spend on the ground and in mail and TV is not as noticed as a lot of outside groups, but it certainly makes an impact," said Paul Lindsay, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The outside spending for House races has been heaviest in the Democratic strongholds of California, $24.3 million; Illinois, $15.5 million; and New York, $15.4 million, according to the Sunlight Foundation.
Overall, outside spending for House races is expected to at least double what took place in the 2010 elections. Then, outside groups spent nearly $94 million on House races. This cycle, outside groups have already spent $151.5 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
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