How Much Did Democratic Outspending in 2010 Matter?

That’s the question prompted by a recent RollCall piece pointing out the vastly more “successful” Democratic fundraising effort in the 2010 Senate races.

The NRCC spent $31.3 million, compared with the DCCC’s $54.8 million in that five-week period.

And while both committees borrowed heavily to fuel their 11th-hour spending sprees, the DCCC finished the period with debts of more than $19.4 million, including nearly $4.5 million in unpaid bills and another outstanding Bank of America loan of $15 million. The NRCC, meanwhile, reported debt of $12 million, having drawn from a $20 million line of credit. Putting the debt aside, each committee finished the period with modest cash balances: $4.7 million for the Republican committee and $3.1 million for the Democrats.

In August I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about how the Democrats were “winning” their elections because their Congressional and Senate fundraising committees had thus far outraised and under-debted their respective Republican counterparts. When the elections ended, I tweeted to Bob Menendez, “@SenatorMenendez There must be something unprecedented about @dscc streak over @nrsc . #datahunt #2010 #midterms”

Menendez, who was in charge of the Senate effort, did in fact break fundraising records, but my inner political scientist knows this is probably not what made the difference. Spending does little for incumbents, especially when their President is unpopular. This is almost certainly a median voter theorem story, as a couple of the Democrats’ “big saves” – namely, Nevada and Delaware – involved Republican candidates with would-be high NOMINATE scores, each probably in the .85-.95 range. Unfortunately, this is a difficult theory to test, because as one could logically conclude these were the closest races, the ones with the most cash stuffed into them, and the ones that involved the highest-profile Tea Party candidates.

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