This year, the National Federation of Independent Business put up $1.6 million to support a handful of Republican running for re-election or election to Congress, wading in to closely contested races with sharp-edged TV, radio, and print ads. The Agenda reported a couple weeks ago that this was a change in strategy for the small business lobby; as Lisa Goeas, the NFIB's vice president, political, told me, "Usually we play in a lot of races," -- a couple dozen House races and eight to ten Senate races -- "and we usually don't do TV or cable."
So did the gamble pay off? Half of the races remain too close to call. Of the other three, the NFIB's candidate has won in one.
Minnesota Senate: The NFIB spent $649,000 on this race, mostly on clever TV ads (like this and this) attacking Democratic candidate Al Franken. The race is too close to call. With all the precincts reporting, Republican Norm Coleman leads by just 477 votes, out of nearly 2.9 million cast. The recount will begin in the middle of November and is likely to last until December.
Maine Senate: By the fall, Republican Susan Collins was heavily favored to win, but in a show of devotion the NFIB nonetheless spent $429,000 on TV, print, and radio ads attacking her Democratic challenger, Congressman Tom Allen. With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Collins has won handily, 61-39.
Washington, District 8: The NFIB spent $208,000 to support embattled Republican incumbent Rep. Dave Reichert. With 71 percent of precincts reporting, Reichert leads Democrat and former Microsoft employee Darcy Burner 51 percent to 49 percent, a gap that has grown slowly but steadily.
Ohio, District 15: The NFIB spent $147,000 to attack Mary Jo Kilroy, the Democrat campaigning to win an open, currently Republican seat in a district that includes part of Columbus. Though major news organizations have reported Republican Steve Stivers with a four or five point lead, that's wrong -- the contest is razor-thin. According to the Franklin County Board of Elections, with all precincts reporting, Stivers leads by 149 votes, out of 285,000 cast. However, 27,000 of provisional votes have yet to be recorded in Democratic-leaning Franklin County, and "history tells that about 80 percent of those ballots will be counted," says Board spokesman Ben Piscatelli. Provisional ballots will be counted in mid-November, and while there's no way to know today how many of these will go to 15th District, if they follow the distribution of regular ballots in the county, and then reproduce the present vote tally, Kilroy will take a small lead. Kevin Kidder, a spokesman for the Ohio Secretary of State's office, says a recount is likely.
Nevada, District 3: The NFIB spent $142,000 to help Republican Jon Porter keep this suburban Las Vegas seat; Porter lost to University of Nevada Las Vegas professor and state senator Dina Titus, 47-42.
North Carolina, District 8: The NFIB spent $50,000 on cable TV ads supporting Republican Robin Hayes, who represents Charlotte and the south-central part of the state. Hayes lost, 55-45, to Larry Kissell, a social studies teacher.
(Updated, with new information about Ohio, Friday at 12:37 p.m.)
UPDATED, Saturday, November 9th, at 9:05 a.m: With results continuing to trickle in, Washington 8 has been called for Republican David Reichert. With 81 percent of precincts reporting, he now leads 52-48, a margin of nearly 9,000 votes. Meanwhile, Sen. Norm Coleman's lead over Al Franken in Minnesota has shrunk to just 221 votes.