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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is following up its endorsement of Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina with attack ads against Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer.
The business group's TV ad campaign could help Fiorina dull the huge financial edge that Boxer had going into the general election. Fiorina lagged Boxer 12-to-1 in fundraising earlier this summer.
The ads began running Wednesday night in Sacramento, Fresno, Bakersfield and San Diego. One ad aimed at Central Valley residents accused Boxer of failing to protect California jobs and farms. A similar ad targeted at San Diego says Boxer voted to cut water to the city.
The two ads refer to a September 2009 vote on an amendment from Sen. Jim Demint, R-S.C. The amendment would have prevented the Interior Department from funding certain activities that reduced the amount of water available to some Central Valley farms as well as communities in Southern California.
The amendment failed 61-35. Boxer was joined by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California in voting against the measure. Feinstein called it a "Pearl Harbor on everything we are trying to do" concerning the state's water problem.
The ads frame the debate over water as one of fish versus people. It will appeal to voters who blame the government for a lack of water.
State and federal water officials have said the drought that plagued California was the biggest culprit in California's water shortages, not the federal rules imposed by wildlife agencies to protect fish in the delta.
For example, state and federal agencies were unable to pump 2.1 million acre feet last year because a three-year drought had left low water levels in the state's key reservoirs. It was far more than the half a million acre feet not pumped to comply with the federally ordered smelt protections.
J.P Fielder, the chamber's director of media relations, says the chamber will spend millions of dollars on various efforts in California, including the Senate race as well as potentially other races. The group supports mostly Republicans, but is backing some Democrats nationally as well.
"Our endorsement are not based on party affiliation," Fielder said. "They're based on support for business issues."
Eric Schultz, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said the chamber's efforts didn't come with the transparency that occurs when candidates and political parties spend money on elections.
"It should raise serious questions about who is trying to buy this seat," Schultz said.
The competitive nature of the California race could lead to numerous interest groups taking a stake in November's election. Crossroads GPS, an organization founded by Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, aired ads in the Los Angeles market last week that highlighted Boxer's vote for Medicare cuts as part of the health care overhaul she supported. The group said it was spending $1 million on the campaign.
Rose Kapolczynski, Boxer's campaign manager, said the ads were to be expected.
"It's no surprise that corporate special interests are coming into California to try and unseat Barbara Boxer because she's fighting to end tax breaks for companies who ship jobs overseas," Kapolczynski said.
Associated Press Writer Samantha Young contributed to this report from Sacramento, Calif.