In a preview of the eye-popping campaign spending headed Colorado's way the year, the leading super PAC devoted to electing Republican senators on Monday reserved $5.5 million in fall TV advertising to protect U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado.
The Colorado sum is part of $67 million in initial reservations in six battleground states by the Senate Leadership Fund, more than twice what the group initially plunked down in the 2018 cycle.
“Protecting our Republican Senate majority has become synonymous with ensuring a firewall against the Democrats’ far-left ambitions," said SLF President Steven Law in a statement. "This initial investment won’t be our last, but it is more than double what we initially reserved in 2018, and it demonstrates we intend to hold the line.”
In order to take the majority in the chamber, Democrats need to win four Senate seats currently held by Republicans, or three seats if the party wins the White House.
The GOP group said it's also spending $21.8 million in North Carolina, $12.6 million in Iowa, $10.8 million in Kentucky, $9.2 million in Arizona and $7.2 million in Maine — all states where Republican incumbents are facing well-funded Democratic challengers. The ads are set to start airing right after Labor Day, according to Politico, who first reported the bookings.
Gardner, who is seeking a second term, is considered among the most vulnerable senators on the ballot this fall. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is the front-runner in a crowded Democratic primary for the seat.
A spokeswoman for the Senate Majority PAC, the GOP group's Democratic counterpart, told Colorado Politics that the relatively smaller ad spending allocated to Gardner's race indicates the Republicans aren't as confident in keeping their Colorado seat.
“Senator Gardner’s 100% loyalty to Mitch McConnell and President Trump has certainly paid off, but it’s telling that his allies are spending double in Kentucky what they’re spending in Colorado," Rachel Irwin said in an email. "That tells you everything you need to know about how Republicans view Gardner’s chances in November as he takes a double-digit hit in the polls.”
Jack Pandol, a spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund, scoffed at Irwin's interpretation.
"DC Democrats' candidate is mired in an ethics scandal and Chuck Schumer's Super PAC is currently on air having to burn cash to bail him out," Pandol told Colorado Politics in an email. "Maybe they should concern themselves with their mess of a primary?"
Hickenlooper is the only Democrat who has made the ballot for Colorado's June 30 primary, having submitted a sufficient number of petition signatures last month. Seven other candidates are pursuing berths in the primary via petition and the caucus and assembly process.
The GOP group's ad reservations this week are the first seven-figure buy in what is expected to be one of the fall's marquee Senate races, though outside players on both sides have already pushed spending in the Colorado race past $1 million.
Most of the money spent so far has been aimed at Gardner, led by a $640,000 TV ad campaign that launched last week from the Senate Majority PAC, the leading Democratic Senate PAC, pushing back on a $500,000 ad campaign from a GOP-aligned dark money group attacking Hickenlooper.
The digital, radio and TV ads naming Hickenlooper were from Unite Colorado, a new group headed by Republican operative Dustin Zvonek. The ads, first reported by The Colorado Sun, ask Gov. Jared Polis to put a stop to the state funds paying for Hickenlooper's defense on ethics charges brought by another GOP-aligned group fronted by Suzanne Staiert, a Republican candidate in a battleground state Senate district.
The Democratic response to the ads — billed as "set[ting] the record straight on Sen. Cory Gardner’s special interest allies’ false attacks and 'politically motivated lies' " about Hickenlooper — spends the bulk of its screen time linking Gardner to President Donald Trump, with footage of Trump at a rally in Colorado Springs last month saying, "You’re gonna help us get Cory Gardner across that line because he’s been with us 100%."
In addition, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Senate Democrats' official campaign arm, reported $350,000 in coordinated spending with Hickenlooper, who was recruited into the race and endorsed by the group.
Two groups have spent smaller sums defending Gardner, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Before its massive ad reservation this week, the Senate Leadership Fund spent $58,000 boosting the incumbent, and Americans for Prosperity Action spent $37,000.
Outside spending topped $70 million in Colorado in 2014, when Gardner unseated Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in one of the most hotly contested races in the country that year.