NRCC, DCCC spur latest Musgrave, Markey slugfest

The armada has arrived. After months of going it alone, the campaigns of Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave and Democratic challenger Betsy Markey are now getting help from their respective national parties — the latest signal of just how much interest this sizzling-hot race has generated in a traditionally GOP stronghold.

After weeks of the two campaigns funding negative attack advertising against the other, the Republican National Congressional Committee (RNCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) have entered the 4th Congressional District flashing competing television ads — a clear sign that both parties see the race as winnable for their candidate.

The NRCC, which reserved $1.2 million in airtime between now and Election Day, hit first on Tuesday with an attack ad highlighting questions Musgrave’s campaign has raised in recent weeks over government contracts Markey’s family business secured while she was working as a field director for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar.

Markey has maintained her work with Salazar was unrelated to the contracts her family business, Syscom Systems, received, but has stumbled while explaining why Syscom continued advertising as a woman-owned business even after she divested her ownership to her husband in 2006.

The DCCC, which has reserved $667,000 in airtime, didn’t take long to respond, airing its own attack ad Tuesday against Musgrave that calls into question hundreds of thousands in campaign donations the three-term incumbent from Fort Morgan has taken from a number of different industries, including oil and gas, health insurance firms as well as the now-crippled financial sector.

Today’s third-quarter campaign-finance reporting by both campaigns will likely illustrate, in part, how Musgrave and Markey will finish the last three weeks of the campaign. According to a fundraising letter sent by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week to supporters, Markey’s campaign is running low on cash and is unsure how long it can continue television advertising in the race.

Despite holding a major cash advantage, Musgrave failed to out-raise Markey during the second quarter of this year, reporting $1,155,899 cash on hand compared to Markey’s $575,835 bankroll. Although Republicans nationwide have struggled to keep up with their 2004 and 2006 fundraising prowess, Musgrave has fallen behind her fundraising levels in previous election cycles at rates greater than other incumbent House Republicans in close reelection bids, according to an August analysis by The Fort Collins Coloradoan.

Musgrave could be outspent this year when considering independent expenditures by three outside groups including the non-profit 501c(4) groups Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund and, as well as by the 527 group called Majority Action. All of the outside money used against Musgrave has come in the form of negative advertising and most experts agree more will be spent against Musgrave in coming weeks.

The geographically vast district, with voter registration numbers that favor Republicans by 13 percent, encompasses the northern Front Range and the rural eastern plains. The possibility of the 4th flipping from red to blue has put the race on the national radar. Officials with both the NRCC and the DCCC have previously said they were keeping a close eye on the race, and it has gained a national audience in recent weeks as polling showed Markey ahead of Musgrave.

A Roll Call poll by SurveyUSA in August put Markey ahead by 7 percentage points and a more recent poll by EMILY’s List, a Markey supporter, put Markey up by 9 points. The EMILY’s List poll is somewhat skewed since it included a smaller percentage of registered Republicans than the 4th’s voter demographics. Markey’s campaign also released internal polling in June that showed her up over Musgrave by 4 percentage points.

Musgrave’s campaign has not released any polling in recent months and no outside groups gauging the race have shown Musgrave in the lead.

The entrance of both national parties into the race shows just how close the two campaigns are. Two years ago, Musgrave struggled in a three-way battle with Democrat Angie Paccione and Reform Party candidate Eric Eidsness. Eidsness, a former Republican, received more than 10 percent of the vote and Musgrave inched past Paccione by a slim 3 percent margin, one of the smallest of any Republican incumbent in the House and the closest of her career. In an already bad year for Republicans nationwide, Paccione looked strong against Musgrave in 2006 until she was slammed in the media and subsequently with negative advertising for a previous bankruptcy and for unpaid student loans.

Just what impact the ads will have on the race during the final weeks is still unknown. What voters can bank on though for the next 21 days is a constant barrage of television advertising — nearly all of it negative.

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