Outside political groups have poured more than $37 million into Virginia airwaves this campaign cycle, pounding voters with attack ads that so far have not changed the outlook in the state's key races.
Conservative organizations have purchased $28 million worth of air time since January 2011, outspending their liberal counterparts 3 to 1, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan tracker of money in politics. Groups that favor Democrats have doled out roughly $9 million. About half the money dedicated to Virginia comes from groups that don't disclose their donors.
At $17.7 million, Northern Virginia TV stations sold more ads than any other market, including sales of about $10 million scheduled for the next two months through the Nov. 6 election. The next closest market is Hampton Roads with about $7.9 million allocated so far.
Crossroads GPS and American Crossroads, two groups headed by longtime Republican strategist Karl Rove, account for roughly half the spending, investing a combined $18 million to aid the campaigns of presidential challenger Mitt Romney and U.S. Senate candidate George Allen. Priorities USA Action, a pro-President Obama super-PAC, and Majority PAC, an arm of Senate Democrats, committed $7.5 million for President Obama and Allen's opponent, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine.
"These outside groups are now a fact of life," said Dan Allen, an adviser to the Allen campaign. "It's something every competitive campaign understands is going to be a part of the race. It's something we know we can't control, and we're trying to run as strong a campaign as we can."
But for all the spending, the state's high-profile Senate race remains deadlocked. And neither Romney nor Obama have opened up significant leads in Virginia.
Nearly every dollar spent has gone to support negative advertising, leaving campaigns scrambling to respond and clear up fallacies, but also allowing them to remain positive in their own TV ads. Kaine has two commercials up, including a Spanish-speaking ad that features himself, while Allen recently ended a modest ad buy called "Virginia Voices," in which his political allies tout his achievements.
The attacks have also served as a rallying cry for campaigns looking to boost their coffers. In the face of $10 million worth of negative ads working against him, Kaine sent out emails to supporters asking for more cash to fight back.
"I'm only half joking, but on some level I'm thankful because it's not helping their side but it is helping us raise money," said Mo Elleithee, a senior adviser to Kaine. "Some of our best online fundraising days are a day when the ads come out from these groups."