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Governorships in play are (mostly) seeing relatively modest ad spending

Ad Age 04 May 2020 09:00

Editor’s note: This post includes spending data analysis by Ad Age Datacenter Director of Data Management Kevin Brown. Scroll down to see the charts.

Governors have been having a moment.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, in states both red and blue, many governors have been rising to the occasion, shifting into public-servant mode and offering their anxious constituents clarity, compassion and good old-fashioned leadership.

While the occupant of the Oval Office and the men and women of Capitol Hill generally dominate national media chatter, governors—especially those holding daily press conferences—have lately been handed a rare opportunity to, well, burnish their political brands.

Last week, a study conducted by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism revealed that on average Americans regard their governors as a more reliable source of official pandemic-related information than the president, by a 15 percent margin (35 percent to 20 percent); only Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, scored higher (45 percent).

As it happens, some of these governors are up for election—and given that many traditional electioneering options, like rallies, are off the table right now, it’s been awfully helpful for them to be able to command their bully pulpits in such a high-profile manner. Also, given that campaign fundraising has been drying up as the economy has tanked, the free advertising implicit in a well-tuned coronavirus briefing certainly comes in handy.

With the exception of North Carolina, where incumbent Governor Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is facing off against Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, a Republican, spending on gubernatorial campaign advertising has been quite modest so far this year. According to the latest Ad Age Campaign Ad Scorecard analysis—an ongoing project led by Ad Age Datacenter Director of Data Management Kevin Brown in partnership with Kantar/CMAG—Republicans in pursuit of, or defending, governorships have spent $16.8 million, vs. $15.3 million by the Democrats. Those tallies include TV and radio advertising by candidates as well as political action committees.

Remarkably, in Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Utah and Washington, Democrats have spent next to nothing on advertising, while in Vermont and West Virginia they have yet to crack even a quarter-million on ad spend. (Keep in mind that other marketing-ish campaign costs, like field offices and social media efforts, don’t factor into our tracked advertising tallies.) Contrast that with Republican ad spending of $1 million-plus in five of those states: Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Utah.

And contrast all of this 2020 spending with the ad spending surrounding just three gubernatorial races—in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi—that were decided in 2019. In those battles, Republicans spent a total of $48.8 million and Democrats $44.8 million. (Dems Andy Beshear and John Bel Edwards prevailed in, respectively, Kentucky and Louisiana, while Republican Tate Reeves did in Mississippi.)

Incidentally, in Louisiana’s gubernatorial race, PACs racked up $23.6 million, or 44.8 percent of the $52.7 million total spent on media in the Creole State—a high for the 2019-2020 gubernatorial cycle. The deliciously named Gumbo PAC’s $10.9 million outlay, in support of Bel Edwards, topped the list.

But back to the Cooper-Forest face-off in North Carolina. The vast majority of all 2020 ad spending on gubernatorial races can be chalked up to the Tar Heel state, with $14.8 million in support of Cooper and $3.6 million for Forest.

North Carolina is, of course, a swing state; Trump’s margin of victory there in 2016 was just 3.7 percent.

For now, though, the real winners are the various and sundry owners
of North Carolina TV and radio stations. 

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