Why You’re Already Tired of 2014

Senators fighting for their lives are already in midsummer form — but can they keep up the pace?

National Journal
Scott Bland
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Scott Bland
April 10, 2014, 5 p.m.

Just as Christ­mas ad­vert­ising has spilled in­to the pre-Thanks­giv­ing peri­od, Hal­loween dis­plays creep in­to stores by Au­gust, and East­er candy hits shelves be­fore Valentine’s Day chocol­ates get some time to them­selves, the folks who sell polit­ic­al can­did­ates are push­ing their products earli­er than ever.

Already, red-state view­ers have seen a sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber of TV ads from en­dangered Demo­crat­ic Sens. Mark Pry­or, Mark Be­gich, and Mary Landrieu, none of whom have primary chal­lenges on the ho­ri­zon. Demo­crat­ic Rep. Gary Peters, run­ning for the Sen­ate in Michigan, star­ted at the end of March. Michelle Nunn, the pre­sumptive Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee for Geor­gia’s open Sen­ate seat, just joined them on the air­waves. “Com­pared to 2010, it is very early for can­did­ates to be on the air to such a de­gree by this point,” said Eliza­beth Wil­ner, the seni­or vice pres­id­ent of Kantar Me­dia Ad In­tel­li­gence.

Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell beat them all off the start­ing line early last year, be­fore he had an op­pon­ent from either party. Faced with low pop­ular­ity rat­ings and need­ling from Demo­crat­ic agit­at­ors, but blessed with abund­ant cash re­serves, the Ken­tucki­an’s reelec­tion cam­paign star­ted air­ing TV ads in March 2013, more than a year be­fore the Re­pub­lic­an primary and 601 days be­fore Elec­tion Day. Some fea­tured Mc­Con­nell’s wife, former Labor Sec­ret­ary Elaine Chao, speak­ing of his love for his state, while oth­ers in­toned against Mc­Con­nell’s favored ad­versary, Pres­id­ent Obama.

The ex­plo­sion of spend­ing by polit­ic­al non­profits, su­per PACs, and oth­er out­side groups in re­cent elec­tions reached ca­co­phon­ous levels by the fi­nal weeks, leav­ing some strategists think­ing they would be bet­ter off put­ting some of that money to use at earli­er, non­tra­di­tion­al points on the cal­en­dar. As a res­ult, out­side polit­ic­al ad­vert­ising in 2013 and early 2014 was more in­tense than ever, led by the con­ser­vat­ive non­profit Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity’s mil­lions. AFP’s ad binge, in par­tic­u­lar, forced Demo­crat­ic cam­paigns to make an early judg­ment that there was no point in con­serving re­sources the tra­di­tion­al way.

“A few cycles ago, some im­port­ant people in Wash­ing­ton real­ized that a lot of these races were over by the time Demo­crats put their first ad up,” said Ben Chao, a Demo­crat­ic ad-maker. “Voters are pay­ing at­ten­tion much earli­er than ever, and, more im­port­antly, they’re mak­ing up their minds much earli­er.”

That was the situ­ation Pry­or’s cam­paign faced in Arkan­sas when he was the un­lucky tar­get of the first at­tack ads of 2014 — in Feb­ru­ary 2013. The Club for Growth and the Sen­ate Con­ser­vat­ives Fund dir­ec­ted more than $500,000 worth of TV and dir­ect-mail at­tacks at Pry­or in the winter and spring. With the un­answered at­tacks start­ing to bruise, Pry­or’s cam­paign joined his foes on TV with ads tout­ing his mod­er­ate and pop­u­list bona fides, along with some hit­ting his less­er-known fu­ture Re­pub­lic­an op­pon­ent, fresh­man Rep. Tom Cot­ton.

Pry­or still faces a deathly dif­fi­cult au­tumn race in a state Mitt Rom­ney car­ried by 23 per­cent­age points in 2012. But he hasn’t lost yet, something that looked like a real pos­sib­il­ity to people watch­ing the race in its early days. As The Cook Polit­ic­al Re­port wrote in March, “Ru­mors of his de­mise might be pre­ma­ture.”

“We feel our early ads and ef­forts to edu­cate folks about Con­gress­man Cot­ton’s re­cord went a long way to­ward mak­ing sure this race con­tin­ues to be com­pet­it­ive,” a Pry­or spokes­man said.

But en­ga­ging in ad­vert­ising to in­flu­ence that de­cision-mak­ing is ex­pens­ive, and the costs are more dif­fi­cult for cam­paigns to re­coup than they are for out­side groups that can raise a mil­lion dol­lars with a single check. As third parties such as Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity spend to spread their mes­sage, they have also squeezed their op­pon­ents fin­an­cially. In com­ments to donors and the press, Sen­ate Demo­crats have clamored for more money as the out­side spend­ing against them climbed.

“Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity has been very crafty,” Wil­ner said. “They’re for­cing a num­ber of Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents on the air be­fore they want to. Money is not an is­sue for AFP, but for every in­cum­bent they force on the air, it is an is­sue.”

Sen­ate Demo­crats’ hefty cam­paign ac­counts should be a source of strength. But the glut of early ad­vert­ising — and the rest of the quick-start cam­paign­ing that those TV ads rep­res­ent — has pro­duced some drag on that front. Be­gich’s April fun­drais­ing dis­clos­ure re­vealed that he had already spent all the money he raised in the first three months of 2014. The $3 mil­lion Pry­or’s cam­paign had already spent by the end of 2013 al­lowed his op­pon­ent to pull closer to him, in fin­an­cial terms, than most oth­er Re­pub­lic­an chal­lengers at this stage.

That’s why can­did­ate ad­vert­ising has been mostly tar­geted at this early stage, rather than un­leashed at sat­ur­a­tion levels. Pry­or’s cam­paign points out that after its early ad­vert­ising spree in the middle of last year, the in­cum­bent has largely stayed off the air­waves. His strategists felt com­fort­able that the ba­sic mes­sage they had already in­tro­duced on TV was still res­on­at­ing with voters, even as his out­side-group ant­ag­on­ists re­mained act­ive. Demo­crats point to Arkan­sas as evid­ence that they’ve been able to keep up — barely — in this earli­er-than-ever bid for voters’ ap­prov­al.

“Busi­nesses need to cater to their cus­tom­ers,” Chao said. “We need to cater to the way voters are mak­ing their de­cisions.”

What We're Following See More »
ON THE CALL: “AT LEAST THAT WAS SACRED”
Gen. Kelly Rips Rep. Wilson for Criticism
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
GOP FORMER PRES V. GOP CURRENT PRES
Bush Slams Trump, Implicitly
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS
AMENDMENT WOULD HAVE PREVENTED CONSIDERATION
Senate Rejects Effort to Nix SALT Tax Changes
8 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Senate Democrats on Thursday failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul."

Source:
MEETING WITH SENATE GOP
Trump to Hill Next Tuesday
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS
INTERPARTY FEUDING CONTINUES UNDER PEREZ
Longtime Progressive Members Pushed Out at DNC
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A shake-up is underway at the Democratic National Committee as several key longtime officials have lost their posts, exposing a still-raw rift in the party and igniting anger among those in its progressive wing who see retaliation for their opposition to DNC Chairman Tom Perez. The ousters come ahead of the DNC's first meeting, in Las Vegas, Nevada, since Perez took over as chairman with a pledge this year to unite a party that had become badly divided during the brutal Bernie Sanders-Hillary Clinton 2016 primary race."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login