updated 10/4/2006 1:26:06 PM ET 2006-10-04T17:26:06

Outside money is streaming into Missouri's U.S. Senate race as national political parties try to sway the outcome of a contest that polls are calling a dead heat.

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The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee so far has spent about $1.4 million on television ads to boost State Auditor Claire McCaskill and slam her opponent, Republican Sen. Jim Talent, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Its counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has poured about $2.3 million into the state for ads, surveys and other expenses in the past two weeks.

Control of Congress
And that's just the beginning of a torrent of funds expected to be spent by outside groups, swelling the millions that Talent and McCaskill will spend on their own. The nationally watched race is one of a handful that could determine whether Democrats regain control of the Senate.

2006 key races

"This is the time when negative advertising starts to emerge in a prominent way," said Terry Jones, a political science professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. "That's best paid for and done by the respective political parties and that's why you're going to see them carrying the bulk of the financial water, maybe for the duration of the campaign."

The most recent public opinion poll conducted last week by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. for McClatchy Newspapers and MSNBC showed Talent and McCaskill each receiving 43 percent support with 13 percent of people undecided.

Highlighting the differences
With the bulk of voters' minds already made up, negative ads give candidates a chance to peel off support from their opponent's base or persuade the relatively few who remain undecided.

In a recent ad, the NRSC claims McCaskill says one thing in urban areas of the state on issues like gun control and meth abuse, then changes her tack when traveling to rural areas.

"The NRSC will spend what it takes to highlight the differences between Senator Talent's common sense values and Claire McCaskill's affinity for hiding her liberal views by saying different things in different parts of the state," said NRSC spokesman Brian Walton.

The DSCC launched an ad last week that calls the Medicare drug plan "a billion dollar giveaway to the big drug companies" and highlights Talent's support for the program, along with his contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who heads the Democratic committee, said the millions spent by the party has helped Democratic candidates put their Republican opponents on the defensive.

Independent expenditures
"Countless polls and news stories from this past weekend confirmed the same amazing piece of news," Schumer said Tuesday in a message to supporters. "If the midterm elections were held today, Democrats would win the six seats necessary to retake the United States Senate."

Most of the outside funds are "independent expenditures" that are not coordinated with the campaigns. These unlimited funds are often aimed at supporting the candidate with TV ads.

The committees can also spend up to $700,600 in "coordinated expenditures" to help pay for campaign expenses and operations to get out the vote.

Records show the Republican committee has given $593,000 in coordinated money to Talent's campaign. The DSCC has contributed about $275,000 in coordinated expenses to McCaskill's campaign.

The Democratic committee also has funneled more than $1.4 million to the Missouri Democratic Party to help organizers get supporters to the polls.

McCaskill's campaign, which has raised less than half the funds Talent has, stands to benefit most from the influx of outside money. Earlier this year, the DSCC pledged to spend about $6 million on TV ads in Missouri from late August through the election.

"When you're up against an incumbent who's been in Washington 14 years and is a favorite of the big lobbyists, any help we can get from outside groups who can talk about sent Talent's record of not fighting for Missouri families is appreciated," said McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh. Talent spokesman Rich Chrismer acknowledged both sides will spend a lot of money.

"But at the end of the day, this race is about who has a record that shows they will stand up for the common sense, conservative values of Missouri," Chrismer said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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