WASHINGTON -- As the leading candidates in Washington's Senate race filed their quarterly campaign fundraising reports, the buzz in political circles last week was about a $750,000 independent television advertising buy and whether outside groups will dominate the air wars.
A conservative group, the American Action Network, launched a round of ads that questioned whether incumbent Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is still the same "mom in tennis shoes" she ran as in her first campaign in 1992.
Murray's campaign responded with its first TV ad, focusing on the senator's support for veterans.
The relatively early independent ads may be a sign of things to come following a recent Supreme Court decision that opens the door to more political advertising by outside groups.
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And with Washington's primary only a month away, the latest campaign fundraising reports show that millions have already been raised by the candidates themselves in a Senate race that's expected be a key national contest.
Murray had, as of June 30, raised more than $11 million, including nearly $1.6 million in the last three months and has $6.8 million in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
More than 70 percent of her money has come from individuals rather than political action committees. At the same point in her last campaign, Murray had raised $9.4 million and had $5.9 million the bank.
"Not bad," Jennifer Duffy, who analyses Senate races for the Cook Political report.
Since entering the race in late May, Republican Dino Rossi has raised $1.4 million and has $1.3 million in the bank, according to FEC reports.
Tapping a donor network he built during two unsuccessful runs for governor, Rossi has also received a boost from fundraisers hosted by the GOP establishment in Washington, D.C., with several more scheduled including one reportedly hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"He had something to prove and he did," Duffy said of Rossi's fundraising. "It was easy money, but he had a good 30 days."
Tea party and Sarah Palin favorite Clint Didier, an Eltopia farmer and former pro football player, has so far raised nearly $572,000 and has $103,000 in the bank, according to reports filed with the FEC. That includes a $5,000 contribution from sarahpac, Palin's political action committee.
Duffy pointed out that roughly half of Didier's contributions over the past three months were from people donating less than $200.
"That shows a grassroots structure," she said, though adding, "it's not a bad haul but not enough to keep up with Rossi."
Republican and Bellingham businessman Paul Akers has loaned his campaign $432,000 and raised about $60,000, FEC reports said. He had $13,000 in his campaign kitty as of June 30.
Rather than nominate a candidate from each party, Washington's Aug. 17 primary will advance the two top vote-getters selected by the entire electorate.
In the state's most closely watched House race, Republican Rep. Dave Reichert has raised about $500,000 more than his main Democratic opponent Suzan DelBene.
But DelBene, with $1 million in the bank, has slightly more cash on hand than Reichert, FEC reports said. DelBene, a former Microsoft executive, has pumped roughly $684,000 of her own money into the campaign.
Reichert has received contributions from the banking, health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. He also received contributions from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and author J.A. Jance.
Among those contributing to DelBene were Emily's List, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, a number of unions and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Washington state's Senate race continues to attract national attention as Republicans try to pick up the 10 seats they need to regain control of the chamber.
"It's a must win seat for Republicans if they want to take back the majority," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor for the Rothenberg Report.
American Action Network's advertising buy is expected to be only the first involving independent groups on both sides. American Crossroads, founded by Karl Rove, former President Bush's political adviser, is expected to buy ads in Washington state as are unions and other interest groups.
Such independent expenditures are not supposed to coordinate their activities with official campaign organization. But there are informal ties. Former Minnesota Republican Sen. Norm Coleman is the chief executive of American Action Network. Rossi campaign manager, Pat Shortridge, worked on Coleman's unsuccessful recount effort.
Among those on American Action Network's board of directors are officials of venture capital, health insurance, drug and hedge fund companies.
Consultants have told Murray's campaign she could face $10 million to $12 million in hostile independent advertising.
"Dino Rossi is expecting people to come in and buy the seat for him," said Alex Glass, Murray's deputy campaign manager. "Outside groups will come in and do the dirty work for him."
Gonzales said Democrats often warn they face an onslaught of outside Republican advertising as a fundraising scare tactic.
"Democrats always hype outside Republican groups to raise money for their own campaigns," Gonzales said.
In the end, Duffy said spending by outside Republican and Democratic groups usually "even out."
But, Duffy said the advertising from American Action Network may have spooked the Murray campaign.
"It's my understanding that since Rossi entered the race, they (the Murray campaign) are moving faster than planned and that means early television," she said. "That's smart."
A Rossi spokeswoman, Jennifer Morris, sought to downplay the entire issue.
"Independent groups can, and should, speak for themselves," Morris said.