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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  Partly Cloudy with Haze
The Daily
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Skinny donkey vs. Fat elephant: Dems are poor, GOP rich

Some candidates, such as Russ Feingold, pride themselves in being the underdogs in the race. However, with political insiders, it's a very different story. Professional campaigners view fundraising as an affirmation of support and excitement for a candidate, as well as a symbol of its capability to contact voters through advertising in the future.

That is why Democrats in Wisconsin as well as all across the country like to point to the fundraising advantage the party enjoys over the GOP. It is evidence, they say, that voters have not soured on Democrats and are not excited by the Republican alternative.

That proposition represents wishful thinking at best. In situations where Democrats are outraising Republicans, they are usually doing so only by way of technicality. That is that conservative donors are giving to independent groups instead of to the party or its candidates.

These third party groups, who mean more in this election than ever before are favoring Republicans by enormous margins. The New York Times has estimated the nationwide trend in Senate races to favor Republicans 10-1. The numbers are more encouraging in House races -- Dems are only outspent 3-1. I haven't seen definitive numbers for the state, but all the evidence suggests an aggressive conservative donor base is similarly pouring money onto the airwaves to overwhelm Democratic candidates.

Doyle knew what he was doing when he gave $1.5 million of his remaining cash on hand to the Greater Wisconsin Committee, which is currently running attack ads against Scott Walker. Attack ads, in the past, have proven to be more effective when they come from third party groups. They allow the candidates to "remain above the fray" for as long as humanly possible.

But the Greater Wiscosnin ads represent the first independent attacks against Walker. Long before they aired, Barrett had already been forced to go on the air attacking Walker, while Republican groups, such as the Republican Governors Association and The Education Action Network ran ads either explicitly attacking Barrett or attacking policies associated with him.

The Senate race is even more lopsided. The Chamber of Commerce, the Club for Growth and the American Action Network have attacked Feingold, with the incumbent forces showing almost no response.

What is not as clear is who has the advantage in state legislative races. Kory Kozlowski, the head of the State Senate Democratic Committee, says the notion of third party groups favoring Republicans in Senate races is "not remotely true." He points to groups such as WEAC and Advancing Wisconsin that are spending to support state Democrats in close Senate races. Online databases, such as the one provided by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, have a hard time providing rapid response to all independent spending, which makes it difficult for me to assess the Democrats' claims.

When asked if voters will distinguish between state and federal candidates, Kozlowski pointed to State Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse) as evidence that national trends do not overwhelm local connections. Although is district went overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008, Kapanke easily won re-election. However, in his Congressional race against Rep. Ron Kind, a right-wing seniors association has poured $565,000 into ads against the Democratic incumbent. That represents 85% of Kind's entire expenditures so far.

There is something else Democrats talk about when they defend their chances of avoiding slaughter: Their ground game. Unions may not be pouring as much money into ads as business, but they do have thousands of members they can contact face-to-face at the doors, and the grassroots infrastructure set up by the Obama campaign two years ago could prove to be a formidable force to get out the vote.

We'll see. Later today I will talk to the head of the College Democrats of Madison, Evan Gieseman, to see what he and his organization have been doing to make sure the Obamaphiles get to the polls for Russ Feingold and Tom Barrett. In the meantime, have you felt the presence of a "ground game" in your neighborhood?

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