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The money flowing into Nebraska's Senate race from outside groups has been more than a trickle but much less than the torrent some anticipated.
Political action committees have played in elections for years but under certain restrictions. The Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling opened the door to unlimited spending by so-called super PACs.
It was that environment that prompted Democrat Bob Kerrey's campaign manager, Paul Johnson, to suggest earlier this year that total spending in the race could exceed $40 million, driven by the spending of independent groups.
The final tally likely will be far below that, however. Kerrey and Republican State Sen. Deb Fischer have spent a combined $8.5 million thus far, while outside groups have dumped more than $5 million into the state, according to the latest numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics. Those figures do not include every dollar spent by outside groups — the rules allow nonprofit groups to not report some of their spending.
For example, the conservative group Americans for Prosperity has not been required to report all of its spending in the state.
Still, the reported sums reveal how spending by outside groups has been relatively modest compared both to predictions and to other states as well.
Of the 33 states with Senate races this fall, 13 have reported more independent expenditures than Nebraska. Virginia tops the list with more than $41 million in independent expenditures.
Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report wasn't shocked that the spending failed to live up to predictions.
“They were also predicting a competitive race,” Duffy said.
Outside groups hit Kerrey with negative ads out of the gate, driving up his unfavorable ratings among voters, but at some point they left him for dead.
That's because the widespread perception as summer turned to fall was that Fischer held a sizable lead. That no doubt helped convince independent groups that their money would be better spent elsewhere.
More outside money could return in response to evidence that the race has tightened.
The World-Herald Poll recently found Kerrey within striking distance of Fischer.
The Hill reported Tuesday that the outside GOP groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS together are dumping $10.5 million into 10 Senate races over the final week of campaigning, including $420,000 into Nebraska.
Former Omaha entrepreneur Joe Ricketts' group Ending Spending already has thrown itself back into the fray, spending at least $434,000 so far in October to help Fischer.
That group spent $254,000 in a critical ad blitz the weekend before Nebraska's May 15 primary, which helped nab Fischer the nomination over Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning.
Democratic groups have been spending in Nebraska as well.
The pro-Kerrey super PAC End the Gridlock has spent $1.5 million since it started in July.
Majority PAC, a national Democratic super PAC, donated more than $470,000 to End the Gridlock. Majority PAC also had spent $406,343 in 2011 in support of Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., before he announced his retirement.
In fact, much of the independent expenditures reported for Nebraska came before the primary.
South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth Action poured money in during the primary to oppose Bruning. Since the primary, DeMint's group has spent $155,551 on behalf of Fischer.
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