With Super PACS unleashed by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into the presidential race as well as many House and Senate races. Did they have an effect? Undoubtedly, but given its expected power, Super PACs and all their spending, came up short. Karl Rove (who did not take defeat well) has been criticized by many on the right for the lack of results from the money spent by his Super PAC, American Crossroads and their affiliate, Crossroads GPS. Top Republican bloviator Donald Trump expressed his displeasure:
The Donald's facts aren't quite accurate, but that's nothing new. According to the New York Times, Karl Rove's Super PAC's spent just over $113 million, but still, that's a lot to work with.
What critics are missing is that the election wasn't just lost by Republicans, it was won by Democrats. Though the air wars are important, and part of Obama's success was having cash to spend to match that of the Republicans (and yes, his own super PAC), his real success was in his ground game. Droves of volunteers made calls and knocked on doors with scripts tailored to their voters. The turnout helped down ballot Democrats, who won nearly every close race in the Senate. Super PACS hammered the air waves to defeat Democrats (mostly), but an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics showed that super PACS focused on a single race lost more than they won.
Before we pronounce the Super PAC dead, we should remember just how alive they were in 2010. In a relatively low turnout year, Super PACS spent big, and were able to wield some serious clout, and the candidates they supported, mostly Republicans, stormed into office. With that in mind, Democrats will have to keep their enthusiasm through election day 2014, when the Super PACS will be back in action, ready to throw their weight around.
So, the lesson of the 2012 election: what beats Super PAC spending? Turnout. We shall see who remembers this in 2014.