Democrats Outspending Republicans on TV in Kentucky Governor’s Race

After a long, bruising primary, Republican Matt Bevin hasn’t spent much so far on TV in the general election, leaving the heavy lifting to the Republican Governors Association.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, a Democrat, pictured in 2010.
Jamie Rhodes AFP/Getty
Karyn Bruggeman
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Karyn Bruggeman
Sept. 24, 2015, 8 p.m.

A su­per PAC formed to help Re­pub­lic­an gubernat­ori­al nom­in­ee Matt Bev­in in Ken­tucky is hav­ing some trouble meet­ing self-im­posed fun­drais­ing goals. Texas-based GOP con­sult­ant Matt Mack­owiak es­tab­lished the new group, called Fight for Ken­tucky, in early Septem­ber with the stated goal of rais­ing $1 mil­lion by Sept. 15. Now that the date has come and gone, the group re­mains re­l­at­ively quiet.

In an email to sup­port­ers Wed­nes­day, the group said it’s “try­ing to raise $100,000” to go on TV. Mack­owiak de­clined to talk on the re­cord about the su­per PAC’s pro­gress, but it high­lights a broad­er trend in the race to be Ken­tucky’s next gov­ernor: Demo­crats are spend­ing more money get­ting their mes­sage out than Re­pub­lic­ans.

At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Jack Con­way, the Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee, already spent $2 mil­lion on TV between the May 19 primary and Sept. 14, ac­cord­ing to a Ken­tucky Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ive track­ing me­dia spend­ing. On top of that, the pro-Con­way group Ken­tucky Fam­ily Val­ues—a su­per PAC fun­ded by the Demo­crat­ic Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation—has spent an­oth­er $1.6 mil­lion.

On the oth­er side, the Re­pub­lic­an Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation con­firmed that it spent $2.8 mil­lion through mid-Septem­ber on TV ads boost­ing Bev­in or savaging Con­way (or both). But a source close to Bev­in’s cam­paign said his first gen­er­al-elec­tion ad buy, which launched just last Fri­day, was backed by only $140,000 on loc­al TV.

Bev­in spent down nearly everything he had on the multi-can­did­ate GOP primary this spring, though his abil­ity to self-fund—the Re­pub­lic­an has already spent $2.5 mil­lion of his own money this year—means that more could be on the way. Mean­while, some Con­way sup­port­ers have ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with his fo­cus on rais­ing money at the ex­pense of face time with voters on the cam­paign trail, but it’s also plain that that fun­drais­ing is pay­ing off in oth­er ways.

Con­way’s cam­paign un­loaded a pack of six 15-second spots this week at­tack­ing Bev­in on a range of is­sues, from his shift­ing stances on Medi­caid to Bev­in’s at­tend­ance at a pro-cock­fight­ing rally last year. Bev­in has so far lacked the re­sources to re­spond. The RGA came to Bev­in’s de­fense in one ad, deny­ing at­tacks that Bev­in’s vari­ous busi­ness en­ter­prises failed to pay their taxes.

Mack­owiak’s group could yet wade in­to the fray. In­ter­est­ingly, a group Mack­owiak foun­ded called Fight for To­mor­row spent a small amount sup­port­ing Kan­sas Sen. Pat Roberts’s Re­pub­lic­an primary chal­lenger in 2014, Milton Wolf. Ben Hart­man, Wolf’s cam­paign man­ager, is now run­ning Bev­in’s cam­paign.

But for the mo­ment, Con­way and his party are head­ing in­to Oc­to­ber with an ad­vant­age in TV spend­ing, a po­ten­tially big deal in the most com­pet­it­ive statewide race of 2015.

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