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With Democratic Primary Fight Closer, Pro-Clinton SuperPAC Amps It Up

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Las Vegas. The superPAC backing her candidacy is spending there to help her win the state's Democratic caucuses on Saturday. Ethan Miller/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Las Vegas. The superPAC backing her candidacy is spending there to help her win the state's Democratic caucuses on Saturday.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton's superPAC seemed to be essentially sitting out the primary, saving its war chest to fight Republicans in the general election. Now that's changed.

In the 10 days since Bernie Sanders thumped Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, the pro-Clinton superPAC Priorities USA Action has spent $1.3 million on her behalf.

The money went for radio ads in South Carolina, which holds its Democratic primary on Feb. 27, plus digital ads and direct mail for future Democratic contests in Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Priorities spokesman Justin Barasky said the superPAC's messaging is the same as it would need to be for the general election: promoting Clinton and attacking Republican presidential candidates. He said the ads and mailers don't mention Sanders, who beat Clinton in New Hampshire last week by 22 percentage points.

The Priorities superPAC finished 2015 with $35.8 million in the bank. It raised $6 million from investor George Soros and $3 million from Hollywood's Haim and Cheryl Saban, among other donors for this election cycle.

Up till now, it has engaged in minimal primary spending — for example, $45,000 on TV in New Hampshire, according to the media firm SMG/Delta and NBC News. But with Sanders pulling close to Clinton in the Iowa caucuses and well ahead in New Hampshire, the wait-till-summer approach is out the window.

Sanders gets support from National Nurses United for Patient Protection, a political committee operated by the union National Nurses United. It has spent $1.7 million promoting the Vermont senator, according to the Sunlight Foundation. NNU members do grass-roots work for Sanders — something that Priorities, a superPAC without members, cannot provide for Clinton.

While Priorities and the nurses' political committee are the independent committees closest to the Democratic candidates, they're hardly the only outside groups in a primary season that has become a free-for-all of political spending.

Using Federal Election Commission data, the Sunlight Foundation calculates that outside groups have spent $2.8 million backing Clinton, $5.3 million attacking her, $1.8 million for Sanders and $829,194 against him.

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