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Super PACs, ‘dark money’ groups eschew presidential race for Senate

The burst of Democratic spending is causing heartburn for operatives working to keep the Senate in Republican hands.

“I worry every day, and every day it’s a different state,” said Scott Reed, the senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber has spent $32 million boosting Republican congressional candidates, according to FEC filings.

But in October, two weeks before the election, Reed found himself watching Trump taking time to attend an event at his new hotel in Washington, D.C., while vice presidential nominee Mike Pence headed to a rally in Utah, a state Republicans haven’t lost in decades.

“You couldn’t make it up,” he sighed.

The U.S. Chamber, which doesn’t intervene in presidential elections, is now concentrating on Senate races in six states: Nevada, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

“The Access Hollywood tape kicked it into high gear,” Reed said of donor interest in the Chamber’s congressionally focused efforts. “Three weeks ago, we saw a big spending deficit in these six key states and I can tell you…we’re almost at par.”

Reed said he’s turned his efforts to voter turnout.

Heather Hargreaves, vice president of the national program at NextGen Climate Action Committee, the liberal super PAC funded by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer focused on climate change, said her group has focused its effort on field work this cycle.

NextGen, which reported receiving $66 million from Steyer so far this election cycle, has spent a total of about $52 million, Hargreaves said. About $31.5 has been spent on Senate races, and the rest on the presidential contest.

The group has thrown its support behind candidates it considers “climate champions,” she said, including Clinton and an array of Senate candidates. It has worked to educate voters on candidates’ positions on issues, primarily climate change, she said, and is employing digital methods such as text messaging to reach millennial voters.

“What’s important right now is getting millennials to the polls,” she said.

Clarification, 12:23 p.m. Nov. 4, 2016: This story has been updated to reflect that NextGen Climate Action Committee’s expenditures are publicly reported.

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