© Greg Nash
Two prominent groups that back Republican candidates are scrapping millions of dollars in advertisements aimed at bolstering vulnerable Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes Internal poll shows Barnes with 29-point lead in Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate facing 4 felony charges MORE (R-Wis.) in the fall, as polls show him trailing former Sen. Russ Feingold (D).
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has pushed back reservations for pro-Johnson advertisements. Once set to begin in early August, the ads are now scheduled to run in October.
And Freedom Partners, a conservative group tied to billionaires Charles and David Koch’s donor network, canceled $2.3 million in airtime they had reserved in the beginning of August.
The NRSC still has more than $1 million in airtime reserved beginning two weeks before Election Day. But those late reservations will allow the committee to cancel its commitments if Johnson cannot claw back into contention. Freedom Partners no longer has reservations in Wisconsin.
Two Democrats and one Republican watching the advertising market confirmed the moves, which were first reported by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
“We are aligning our television advertising strategy to ensure maximum impact across key Senate races,” said James Davis, a spokesman for Freedom Partners. “We will continue to direct citizen outreach through our grassroots activities, volunteer phone calls, digital media and direct mail.”
Alleigh Marre, a spokeswoman for the NRSC, said the committee was adjusting its ad buys to mirror those of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The cancellations reflect concerns among Republicans that Johnson, a first-term senator who defeated Feingold in the 2010 GOP wave, may not be able to hold his seat. Feingold has led Johnson since the beginning of the race: A Marquette Law School poll conducted July 7–10 showed Feingold leading Johnson 49 percent to 44 percent among likely voters.
Johnson’s campaign dismissed the significance of the advertising moves and pointed out that the incumbent has already closed the gap with Feingold; earlier Marquette Law School surveys showed Feingold leading by double-digit margins.
“We just had our strongest fundraising quarter ever and the polls show this race tight. We are comfortable and confident and believe we have the support to run a winning campaign. The voters already fired Sen. Feingold once, and they will reject him again,” Brian Reisinger, Johnson’s campaign spokesman, said in an email.
But Johnson is seen as among the most vulnerable senators seeking reelection this year, along with Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R) in neighboring Illinois, and a loss could help Democrats regain the majority in the Senate.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reserved $2.1 million in television ad buys in Wisconsin. Other Democratic groups, including the Environmental Defense Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters, have spent heavily in recent months to oppose Johnson.
The Republican groups' cancellations come after heavy spending earlier in the year. Americans for Prosperity, another group tied to the Koch network, has spent nearly $1 million on ads opposing Feingold. The Club for Growth spent more than $500,000, and Freedom Partners had already dropped $1.3 million into the state. Two pro-Johnson super-PACs had spent a combined $1 million on his behalf.
Democrats must net a total of four Republican-held seats to pull to a 50-50 tie in the Senate. The NRSC and its Democratic counterpart are focusing on a handful of Republican-held seats in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Hampshire, and on Democratic seats in Nevada and Colorado.
Both Democrats and Republicans are fond of citing their opponent’s historical hurdles in Wisconsin. Democrats point out that no Republican senator has won reelection in a presidential year in Wisconsin since 1980, when Sen. Bob Kasten kept his seat in the Ronald Reagan wave. Republicans counter that only one other candidate has won a seat in the Senate after losing a reelection bid — Sen. Slade Gorton, a Republican from Washington.