TALLAHASSEE — At least a dozen super PACs and independent political groups have pledged at least $40 million so far in reserved TV time in Florida's U.S. Senate race — hoping to use a barrage of commercials before Election Day to steer voters to Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio or Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.
The money is almost split evenly between Republican and Democratic backers, with about $20 million on each side, the Times/Herald found.
And that doesn't even count the millions the candidates' own campaigns might pour into TV advertising. Both launched their first ads of the general election this month, but neither campaign would discuss with the Times/Herald how much they planned to spend through November.
Meanwhile, at least $12 million has already been spent by roughly two dozen groups to buoy Murphy's and Rubio's campaigns with outside support, including TV ads, Federal Election Commission records compiled by ProPublica show.
The tens of millions of dollars these political influencers are investing — from the conservative Koch brothers to liberal labor unions — is another mark of how important Florida's U.S. Senate race is on the national stage.
Although the state isn't necessarily as vital to Democrats' hopes as it previously was, a win in Florida could still help the party take back control of the Senate next year.
Those stakes are why Republican groups came out hard and fast this month against Murphy.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee released three ads, including one in Spanish, across 10 days this month — spending at least $2 million so far out of $4.8 million it has committed through Oct. 2.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will begin spending an estimated $10.8 million in TV ads starting Tuesday, on top of $5 million the group has budgeted for direct mail and digital ads.
Brothers Charles and David Koch, through their network of political organizations, plan to spend an unknown sum in support of Rubio. Americans for Prosperity spent $1.1 million on a TV ad this past week, and the Libre Initiative paid about $600,000 for an ad released the week before.
A Koch brothers spokesman didn't return an email seeking comment on how much the billionaires will shell out on Rubio's behalf this fall, but Andres Malave, spokesman for AFP in Florida, said the state group will be mostly focused on its ground game, rather than TV time.
Most of the Republicans' ads so far — from both the Senate Republicans' campaign committee and Rubio himself — have relentlessly attacked Murphy for embellishing his academic and professional credentials.
Some of those attacks have exaggerated facts. For instance, PolitiFact found it's too extreme for ads to make blanket statements that Murphy "never" worked as a Certified Public Accountant or as a small business owner.
He did, but there are nuances to those experiences that don't make Murphy's résumé as black and white as either Republicans or Murphy's campaign are trying to portray it.
Meanwhile, liberal groups are trying to pick apart Rubio's record one issue at a time.
In the past two weeks, NARAL Pro-Choice America went after Rubio's stance on abortion as it relates to the Zika virus, the American Federation of Teachers funded an ad criticizing Rubio over aid to Puerto Rico and Murphy's campaign playfully attacked the senator for his weak attendance record.
Coupled with the presidential race, Florida voters may grow weary of the seemingly endless political ads consuming their TV time this fall, but for statewide candidates it's the single most impactful way to get the attention of the more than 12 million registered voters across Florida.
And for Murphy, it's an especially vital tool — because polls continue to show a large percentage of voters still don't know who he is or have an opinion on him.
"TV advertising will take care of that," said Miami Democratic consultant Christian Ulvert, who isn't working with Murphy's campaign. "With statewide races in the past, whether (Republican Gov.) Rick Scott or (former Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Alex Sink, you see where TV advertising moves numbers very quickly."
But as Rubio and Murphy are neck-and-neck in recent polls, there are signs national Democrats are withdrawing resources from Florida in favor of more winnable races elsewhere — which could hurt Murphy.
Instead, on Friday afternoon, Politico reported the DSCC was cutting its Florida investment down to $6 million, including cutting its ad buys into early October.
When asked for comment, DSCC spokeswoman Sadie Weiner referred the Times/Herald to the Politico story.
Amid the cuts, the DSCC has said that a $10.5 million ad buy that began this past week by the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC affiliated with outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, will be sufficient to fight on Murphy's behalf.
Contact Kristen M. Clark at email@example.com. Follow @ByKristenMClark.