Nevada Senate Race Drew in $31 Million From 34 Groups in Last Few Weeks

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Living in Nevada right about now might feel a lot like living in Iowa or New Hampshire at the start of the presidential primaries. At least 34 PACs, party organizations, union groups and advocacy organizations are vying for voter attention in the state's highly contested Senate race. Since mid-September alone, forces outside the battling campaigns of Republican Joe Heck and Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto have spent over $31 million on direct mail, digital, radio and TV ads, phone banking and door-to-door canvassing in the hopes of pushing their chosen candidate toward the seat to be vacated by longtime Democratic Senator Harry Reid.

According to Ad Age analysis of Federal Election Commission data, 18 different organizations made independent expenditures opposing Mr. Heck or supporting Ms. Cortez Masto in the period evaluated. Sixteen groups backed Mr. Heck and opposed Ms. Cortez Masto in that time. And they were nearly evenly split, with Heck supporters spending $15.4 million and Cortez Masto supporters spending $16.1 million.

Independent expenditures represent campaign communications from groups not coordinated with candidate campaigns that expressly advocate for or against an identified candidate.

"It's been pretty much at parity for the most part to this point, and it is a remarkable amount of money going to just one race," said Eileen Goulding Braden, VP-political affairs and federation relations division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who manages the group's political, grassroots, small business, and election-related activities. "Senate races have been expensive this cycle, though the map is much smaller, so you're seeing increased spending in fewer places." The Chamber spent around $900,000 to back Mr. Heck since mid-September, in the hopes of preserving a pro-business majority in the Senate, and recently launched a TV ad featuring Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Joe Heck supporter.

Mr. Heck voted against solar energy programs, accepted millions from polluters, and voted for tax cuts for billionaires, claims a Spanish-language online video ad set to run next week in the state. "We have a better option," it continues, "Catherine Cortez Masto." Ms. Masto is of Mexican heritage, and appealing to Spanish speakers is especially important in the state; Pew Research Center reported in January that Nevada is the 13th largest Hispanic statewide eligible voter population nationally.

NextGen Climate, an organization that promises to spend $25 million in 13 battleground states including Nevada to reach millennial voters, is behind the ad, which will run on social sites and in pre-roll video targeting Latino voters in Nevada. The ad is part of a six-figure buy and will run for two-and-a-half weeks.

NextGen is among a pack of groups hoping to help defeat U.S. Representative Joe Heck, in a neck-and-neck contest against Ms. Cortez Masto, the state's former attorney general. According to FEC reports analyzed by Ad Age, NextGen spent around $400,000 on digital advertising since mid-September, all with Democratic digital agency Bully Pulpit Interactive, also the digital firm handling Hillary Clinton's digital campaign. The organization focuses on issues including climate change to engage young voters, and has offices in Las Vegas and Reno as well as presences on campus at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and University of Nevada, Reno.

According to Suzanne Henkels, communications director at NextGen Climate, the organization's research reveals that climate change and clean-energy issues resonate with Latino and Hispanic voters.

League of Conservation Voters is another group pushing climate issues to sway Nevada voters against Joe Heck, whom the group has connected with big conservative donors the Koch brothers. One TV ad from the group suggests that "they struck it big with Congressman Heck," who voted for tax breaks for oil companies and against Nevada's solar energy industry.

"Our data-driven campaigns are reaching out to key groups of voters, including communities of color and millennials, explaining the choice they face in this election, between an ally of big polluters, Joe Heck, and Catherine Cortez Masto, who will fight to protect Nevada's solar industry," said Clay Schroers, LCV national campaigns director.

In the weeks analyzed, by far the biggest super PAC spender in the fight for Mr. Reid's seat is Senate Leadership Fund, which, according to Ad Age analysis, spent $5.2 million since mid-September on digital, radio and television ads, much of it with Main Street Media. A recent TV spot from the Republican group paints Ms. Cortez Masto as weak on sex crimes, claiming that the first person charged under a sex trafficking law she sponsored as Nevada's AG was given a plea deal for a lesser charge, is now free, and is not registered as a sex offender. Aiming to deter women from supporting Ms. Cortez Masto, other ads from the group suggest that she "failed Nevada" because only a small percentage of rape kits were tested during her tenure as attorney general between 2007 and 2015.

The National Rifle Association and National Republican Senatorial Committee each plunked down $2.7 million to back Mr. Heck in Nevada, according to Ad Age analysis. Most of the NRA's spending went to Starboard Strategic for TV and digital ads. The NRSC bought TV and digital ad services through Del Ray Media and Acquire Digital. Other big Heck supporters in the period evaluated included the National Association of Realtors Congressional Fund ($1.5 million) and Freedom Partners, a group aligned with the Koch brothers ($1.2 million). Another Koch-affiliated group, Americans for Prosperity, spent around $460,000 on direct mail and phone banking to back Mr. Heck in the time measured.

Ads Appeal to Women, Latinos

The most prolific spender supporting the former state AG in the period measured, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, also appears to be aiming to sway women voters in the Nevada race. A recent TV ad from the group features a breast cancer survivor from Las Vegas, who says there are many women who depend on Planned Parenthood for cancer screening and care. "So I'll never understand politicians like Congressman Heck who tried to defund Planned Parenthood," she continues, concluding, "Congressman Heck does not share my values."

The DSCC spent $3.5 million on media buys since mid-September, the bulk of which went to Great American Media. A small portion, $50,000, was paid to Bully Pulpit Interactive.

The Senate Majority PAC spent around $2.3 million since mid-September on digital and TV media with Blueprint Interactive and Waterfront Strategies to oppose Mr. Heck. A Spanish-language TV ad from the group launched in early September argues that the congressman's stances on immigration and education are no different from those of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Another recent ad suggests that Mr. Heck is beholden to "the billionaire Koch brothers."

Mr. Heck withdrew his support for Mr. Trump earlier this month and called on him to step down, after a recording of the Republican presidential hopeful discussing lewd behavior towards women was exposed by the Washington Post.

The American Federation of State and Municipal Employees ($2 million), Women Vote ($1.7 million), Planned Parenthood ($1.4 million) and pro-immigrant group iAmerica Action ($1.3 million) were also big spenders backing Ms. Cortez Masto.

A win for either side, replacing Democratic Senate Minority Leader and former Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has held office in the Senate since 1987, is considered an especially symbolic feat. Ms. Goulding Braden of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called a win for Republicans "critically important" because "Catherine Cortez Masto is [Mr. Reid's] handpicked candidate who will continue his big government legacy in the U.S. Senate. That's something Nevada can't afford."