If outside spending is any indication of how close a race is, the 12th District may be a dead heat.
As of Friday outside groups — organizations independent from a candidate's campaign — had spent a total of $7,950,428 to support or oppose either Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, or his Republican challenger Keith Rothfus, Sewickley.
The 12th District ranks 12th overall nationally — including the presidential and Senate races — in outside spending.
Only a House race in Ohio has prompted more spending. More than $8 million has been spent in the 16th District of Ohio. Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci is being challenged by Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton. Redistricting there has forced a battle of incumbents.
In the 12th District race $333,145 has been spent for Democrats and $4,080,638 against Democrats. There has been $1,249,684 spent for Republicans while $2,286,961 has been spent against Republicans, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website created by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics to track federal campaign contributions.
Rothfus spokesman Tom Doheny said the campaigns are on a sprint to the finish.
"The polls and fundraising, all the numbers, are showing Keith Rothfus surging with momentum," he said. "It's no surprise that there is a lot of increased interest in the race from both sides. People are excited about Keith's message and excited to take southwestern Pennsylvania back from the influence of President Obama and his policies and his ally and supporter Mark Critz."
Doheny said that people who know Rothfus are able to separate the man from the negative campaign ads.
"Everybody that knows Keith, everybody who met Keith, knows he is a regular guy. He's a lovable, normal guy," he said.
He added that many advertisements by outside groups use the same message but change the name of the candidate involved.
"You can say the same things a million times and it doesn't make it true," he said. "The numbers and facts are on our side."
Critz spokesman Mike Mikus said there are a couple of factors that have made the 12th District race one of the most expensive in the country, including projections that Obama will not do well in the district and the cost of local television advertising.
"Pittsburgh is in that sweet spot," he said. "These groups can get a lot of bang for their buck. It's relatively affordable compared to other places in the country."
He said these groups flooding the market with negative ads are "one of the more disappointing things in politics right now." Mikus said the groups do not care about western Pennsylvania but want to attack Critz to elect Rothfus.
He said one example is an ad that accuses Critz of giving his staff $45,000 in bonuses. Mikus said Critz asked his staff to tighten their budgets and was able to give money back to the treasury. As a reward some full-time employees were given a $2,000 bonus.
"They are trying to make it like these people were getting rich on the taxpayer's buck," he said. "These are people making $35,000 to $40,000 and were able to save tens of thousands of dollars. That's what's disconcerting about a lot of these attack ads."
It is against the law for candidates and political action committees to coordinate ad campaigns. So candidates know nothing about the information being prepared.
"If they come out with an ad we don't like, we can't do anything legally," he said.
Experts say the most important part of a campaign ad might be the end, when the person or group who purchased the ad identifies themselves. Under campaign law every campaign ad has to clearly state who footed the bill.
Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org, an organization that scrutinizes the claims in campaign ads, said that sometimes it is just as important to check who is placing the ad as the message itself.
"They can't rely on candidates or unconnected groups to give them the whole story or to even give them accurate information of any sort," he said.
Jackson said people should never rely on a single source to verify information.
"Not even FactCheck.org," he said. "People can make mistakes and clearly information that comes from somebody to persuade you to vote one way or another is only going to be giving you one side of the story at best. I'd say look for news coverage you trust or some kind of nonpartisan independent viewpoint that isn't associated with one side or another."
In addition to congressional campaign committees, here are some of the organizations that contributed to the spending:
Americans for Tax Reform
Club for Growth
Young Guns Action Fund
House Majority PAC
Service Employees International Union