In an ad entitled "Too Much," focused on President Barack Obama and energy prices, the outside group Crossroads GPS is going on air for a week on broadcast and cable in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, with a total buy costing $1.7 million, per POLITICO's James Hohmann.That's Karl Rove's outfit, and don't be surprised if they end up spending over $100 million in such attack ads before this thing is done—and that's not including every other shadowy GOP billionaire-funded front group.
Still, how much impact can these negative ads have on Obama? There is probably no human being more over-exposed on the planet than Obama, and how many people are sitting around waiting for ads to tell them what they think of him? People either love him, hate him, tolerate him and may or may not vote for him, or don't care for him and may or may not vote for Romney. No one is sitting around undecided on how they feel about the president.
But that's all conjecture. Let's look at an actual race in which these shadowy groups have already spent millions—the Ohio Senate race.
There is no candidate in this nation, except for presidential contenders, who has faced more Super PAC-funded negative ads than Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown. At last count, he's faced $5.1 million in such attack ads from the US Chamber of Commerce ($2.7 million), the 60 Plus Association ($1.4 million), others like Rove's Crossroads GPS.
Now keep in mind that unlike Obama, Sherrod Brown isn't a household name, not even in Ohio. He's a freshman Senator, at his most vulnerable reelection effort—his first. These are the kind of races in which negative ads have the most impact, helping define candidates in voters minds.
So what have those millions done to Brown's numbers? Here's a poll composite of the state, excluding Rasmussen's numbers:
Keep in mind that while Brown has weathered this onslaught, he has done so with no outside support. Allied groups are still sitting on the sidelines, wondering if Brown will actually hit the danger zone. He hasn't thus far.
Of course, this one example isn't proof of anything, but it is suggestive—if a massive negative ad blitz has done little to dent a relatively unknown freshman senator's standing with voters, how exactly will a massive negative ad blitz dent the standing of a universally known politician like Obama? (And let's not even get into DVRs and shifting media consumption patterns that further reduce the impact of those ads.)
My prediction right now—the Super PACs won't have a perceptible impact on the presidential race. Their effect in Senate races should be stronger (notwithstanding the Ohio example), and they'll likely have a huge impact in House races (where candidates are little known, and voters have little interest in getting to know them). Also, we can't ignore the effect those ads had in the GOP primary—but remember, it took well over $100 million to drag Romney over the line against 4th-tier shit candidates like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
(And let's not forget how well that effort worked out for Romney himself, sporting record-low favorability ratings for a major party nominee.)
But the prez? They can sink hundreds of millions of people trying to turn him into the boogeyman they think he is at Fox News, but people have already made up their own minds.
The only question was wether the GOP would put up someone they might like more than Obama. They didn't. Not even close.