MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The Colorado Senate race has become one of the most expensive in the nation. That is thanks, in part, to the Supreme Court ruling in January, Citizens United. It allowed businesses and unions to spend as much money as they want on political campaigns. And in Colorado, they've spent a lot - more than $28 million.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Denver.

JEFF BRADY: While many of the outside ads are coming from groups with innocuous-sounding names, they tend to follow the plot lines that candidates have created for their opponents. Democrat Michael Bennet is portrayed as a big-spending liberal.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man #1: But Bennet voted to spend an average $2.5 billion per day on things like the failed, pork-filled stimulus and ObamaCare.

BRADY: A group co-founded by Republican strategist Karl Rove, called American Crossroads, paid for that ad. It ran in Colorado over and over and over. According to the Campaign Finance Institute, groups like this have spent almost $8 million to help Republican challenger Ken Buck. Senator Bennet, on the other hand, has gotten most of his outside help from his own party.

One ad from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee focuses on a statement Buck made during the primary. He suggested he wasn't a fan of the 17th Amendment, which led to direct election of senators.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man #2: Rewriting the Constitution, ending our right to vote - Ken Buck is just too extreme for Colorado.

BRADY: Buck has since made it clear he supports direct elections.

Those two themes - that Bennet is a big-spending liberal and Buck is an extremist -played out during a debate this past weekend. Senator Bennet was given the opportunity to ask Buck a question.

Senator MICHAEL BENNET (Democrat, Colorado): Since candidates supported criminalizing abortion cases over rape and incest, my question is, who's going to go to jail, Ken?

Mr. KEN BUCK (Republican Senate Candidate, Colorado): Who's going to go to jail?

Sen. BENNET: When you criminalize abortion in the case of rape and incest and an abortion occurs, who's going to jail?

Mr. BUCK: Yeah, I'll tell you, senator, I don't think abortion is going to be criminalized anytime soon.

BRADY: And within a few seconds, Buck turned the conversation back to the issue he sees as an advantage.

Mr. BUCK: You have once again tried to take this debate off topic. We are talking about issues that are important to Colorado voters. We're talking about jobs. We're talking about your vote on health care. We're talking about other things that Colorado voters want to know about.

BRADY: In downtown Denver, Summer Crabtree says she was disappointed Buck didn't answer Bennet's question.

Ms. SUMMER CRABTREE: And I couldn't understand why. If he has a stance on an issue, he should feel free to go ahead and back it, and voice his opinion on it.

BRADY: Crabtree doesn't belong to a political party, and says she'll probably end up voting for Senator Bennet or the Libertarian in the race because she supports abortion rights. But for Republican John Schneider, the individual positions of the candidates in this race don't even matter.

Mr. JOHN SCHNEIDER: It's basically a referendum against the Obama administration. In a´┐Żnormal election cycle, I would be probably voting for Michael Bennet. But sorry, can't - that would give Mr. Obama more support in the Senate, and he doesn't need it.

BRADY: Schneider said he's most upset by the health-care overhaul. And that issue is frequently raised in ads against Senator Bennet, who voted for the legislation.

Summer Crabtree says she's about had it with the ads.

Ms. CRABTREE: I mute them; I can't stand them. And anything I get in the mail, I toss - straight in the trash.

BRADY: All that money spent on ads has left the Senate race in Colorado virtually tied, less than a week from Election Day. Probably the biggest beneficiary has been commercial media. Gannett, which owns the leading television news station in Denver, says it expects advertising revenue for its broadcasting unit to jump by more than 20 percent this quarter over last year, largely because of political ads.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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