WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican National Committee began running ads in 40 media markets Tuesday mostly targeting incumbent senators who supported President Barack Obama's health care program. Billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, gave $2.5 million to help Democrats defend their majority in the Senate.
The early action suggests Republicans see the president's signature domestic achievement as their way to keep control of the House and perhaps win the Senate. With more than 300 days remaining before Election Day, both sides are looking to set the agenda before voters start paying attention.
"Obamacare is going to be the issue in 2014," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told reporters, signaling the central committee's main message heading into this election year.
Specifically, the RNC ads in 12 states remind voters that Obama and his allies promised Americans that if they liked their insurance, they could keep it. That promise proved inaccurate as millions of Americans were told their policies didn't meet the national health law's minimum standards and were instructed to buy new -- and better but often more expensive -- health plans.
But there was little cash behind the ads, which are set to run for just two days. For instance, the RNC is spending $85 to air the ad in Grand Rapids, Mich., and another $110 for a station in Detroit.
Priebus said serious ad spending would come later in the year.
The radio ads will target Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Mark Warner of Virginia. Reps. Bruce Braley of Iowa, Gary Peters of Michigan, Tim Bishop of New York and Nick Rahall of West Virginia also are facing the messages.
"The law stinks, and it's a disaster," Priebus said of the health care law. "It's not possible for this not to be the No. 1 issue in the 2014 elections."
Democrats dismissed the size of the advertising buy as paltry and the message as off-base.
"Today, more Americans have better, more affordable health care than before thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The GOP shut down the government trying to take it all away," Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin said. "If that's the agenda they want to campaign on, they can go right ahead."
Meanwhile, Bloomberg's donation to the Senate Majority PAC, first reported by Politico, would help defend those Democrats. The political independent left office last week after 12 years and seems eager to have his hand in races nationwide.
"Mike Bloomberg is going to continue to fight for the causes that matter to New Yorkers -- even more so now that he isn't constrained by the mayoralty," Bloomberg adviser Stu Loeser said.
Last year, Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC spent millions to help Democrat Terry McAuliffe capture the governor's office in Virginia and aired more than $2 million in ads for him.
Bloomberg also aired ads criticizing lawmakers who didn't support tighter federal laws on guns. Additionally, he lined up to support lawmakers from both parties who have pro-environment and pro-education reform positions.
Bloomberg's $2.5 million donation nears the $3 million the committee stated on its most recent fundraising report, which covered January through part of July 2013.
Thirty-five Senate seats are up this year and Democrats will be defending 21 of them. The current balance of power in the Senate is 45 Republicans, 53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. Republicans need a net gain of six seats to wrest the Senate from Democrats' control.
Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.