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Partisan, but independent, groups fire off ads against Blunt, Carnahan

In what's already shaping up as a take-no-prisoners U.S. Senate contest in Missouri, the independent spending is about to explode.

Politico and Democratic-alignedFiredupmissouri.com are among the outlets already reporting on the hefty buy in TV ads that an independent Republican media operation -- co-founded by Karl Rove -- has purchased in Missouri to attack the state's Democratic nominee, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

Crossroads GPS (Grassroots Policy Strategies) says it has purchased $2 million in ads, split between those targeting Carnahan and others in Nevada attacking U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat. Crossroads GPS is the work of Rove, a former top adviser to President George W. Bush, and former GOP national chairman Ed Gillespie; the duo also created the parent political action committee, American Crossroads.

But Crossroads has lots of company, pro and con.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has already reserved $4 million in TV ad time on behalf of Carnahan leading up to the Nov. 2 election. (Much of that money was likely raised when President Barack Obama headlined the fundraising event in July for Carnahan; some donations went directly to her campaign and others went to the DSCC.)

Carnahan also is benefiting from radio ads now being aired in the state by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is spending $700,000 to attack the GOP Senate nominee, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield.

Within the past year, Carnahan also has benefited by more than $1 million in TV ads that the League of Conservation Voters and Votevets.org have aired against Blunt.

Independent ad campaigns must be conducted carefully to comply with Federal Election Commission rules that A) bar coordination with a candidate's campaign and B) bar the independent ads from explicitly calling for a candidate's election.

As a result, the Crossroads and AFSCME ads are focusing on issues and avoid mentioning the favored candidate. The Crossroads ad attacks Carnahan for her failure to side with GOP efforts -- notably, Proposition C and Lt. Peter Kinder's lawsuit-- to exempt Missouri from the new federal health-care mandates. Blunt isn't mentioned.

(The Crossroads ad has to be particularly careful because Crossroads GPS is a 501 c4, a type of non-profit group that is allowed to engage in political activity as long as that's not the group's chief purpose. Its donors do not need to be disclosed. The American Crossroads PAC has more freedom in its ads, but its donors are public.)

Meanwhile, the AFSCME ad attacks Blunt for his congressional votes against increasing the federal minimum wage, when his congressional pay has gone up five times during his 14 years in the U.S. House. Carnahan is not mentioned.

Blunt's campaign sent cease-and-desist letters last week to radio stations around the state to block the AFSCME radio spot, saying that it inaccurately states that Blunt voted for the pay hikes. (Actually, since 1989, members of Congress automatically get "cost of living" pay hikes unless they vote to reject the increase. There have been several pay hikes since Blunt took office, but Congress voted to freeze its pay in 2010 and 2011.)

At least one radio station has dropped the spot, the Blunt campaign says.

Another fiscally conservative advocacy group also has just been formed: the Coalition for Economic Prosperity and Jobs . Although the announcement makes no mention of Blunt or Carnahan, the list of key Republicans involved -- and the timing -- indicates that more anti-Carnahan ads may soon be on the horizon.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.