(CNN) - Nearly $1.8 million worth of ad spending has flooded the airwaves in New York's 23rd congressional district in the runup to next week's special election to fill that seat.
Democrat Bill Owens, the SEIU, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have spent more than $822,000 so far, with the majority of that money coming from Owens, according to an analysis by TNSMI-CMAG, CNN's consultant on political advertising. Embattled Republican Dede Scozzafava's campaign, the state party and the National Republican Congressional Committee have laid out $536,072 in support of her bid - but just under $67,000 has come from the state assemblywoman's cash-poor campaign.
And roughly $429,000 worth of ads have aired on Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman's behalf, with the majority of those funds coming from the fiscally conservative Club for Growth.
When the Club for Growth's $287,000 in TV ads aimed at swaying conservative-leaning voters on Hoffman's behalf first hit the airwaves a few weeks ago, Scozzafava enjoyed a slim but statistically significant edge in this Republican-leaning district: A Siena survey released earlier this month, before the Club for Growth and Hoffman ads hit the airwaves, found she held a 7-point edge over Owens, 35-28 percent. Hoffman registered 16 percent – despite the fact that roughly 7 in 10 of those polled didn't know who he was. The seat's previous occupant, former GOP Rep. John McHugh – who left office to serve as President Obama's Secretary of the Army – won re-election in 2008 by nearly 2-to-1 over his Democratic challenger.
Then came the Club's ads, which slammed her just as hard as her Democratic opponent, with one comparing Owens to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Scozzafava to New York's unpopular governor, David Paterson - an attack designed to resonate in this conservative district. A few days later came TV ads from Hoffman's campaign that painted him as the race's true conservative.
"There's something going on today. Politicians don't understand it. But Americans are fighting back. That's why conservative Republican Doug Hoffman is running for Congress," said the narrator in a 30-second Hoffman spot. "He'll fight for strict term limits, reject pork barrel spending, oppose and refuse any pay hike for Congress. Army veteran, businessman, NRA member, Hoffman will take our conservative values to Washington."
Non-candidates have spent more on this race than the candidates themselves, says TNSMI-CMAG's Evan Tracey - "which could be the new norm" in 2010.
As the Hoffman-linked ad buys grew - even before a string of high-profile Republicans publicly backed Hoffman's bid - Scozzafava's numbers sank: By late October, her 7-point advantage over Owens had turned into an apparent 4-point deficit in a new Siena survey, though one roughly within the poll's 3.9 percent sampling error – she now trailed the Democrat, 33-29. Hoffman had also picked up support – and, at 23 percent, was within single digits of Scozzafava.
Now, in the race's closing days, new ad spending is flooding the district. A brand-new group, Common Sense America, has spent $150,000 on a seemingly positive spot backing Scozzafava - as the race's most progressive candidate. The message may seem a bit tone-deaf for the district's political leanings - but in reality, it's pitch-perfect: The new group was founded by individuals with links to the Club for Growth, making the spot a stealth attack ad.
There's another sign that the ad wars have damaged Scozzafava's hopes in another, more unexpected way: Siena found that, by a 28-12 margin, those who'd seen the GOP candidate's campaign ads said the spots made them less likely to support her.