#NCSEN: Scheduling an ad buy vs. PAYING for it

ttadI had a rather enlightening phone call with a friend who pulls down a hefty paycheck for his behind-the-scenes work in federal-level election campaigns.  (To my knowledge, he is not involved in any of North Carolina’s campaigns this year.) 

He — like so much of the rest of the political world — is keeping a close eye on North Carolina’s US Senate race.  My friend read my comments about Thom Tillis’ new ad buy and wanted to throw in his two cents.

He points out that news reports indicate the Tillis campaign is “scheduling” $1 million worth of advertising time — NOT buying it.  My friend did a little research and found that the Tillis campaign has only committed roughly $103,000 to the new “Paperboy” biographical ad.  

As of the end of 2013, the Tillis campaign had reported a fundraising total of $1,335,080.  Why would they go ahead and blow nearly all of their war chest NOW?  (In fact, they could not do it legally.  A good chunk of that total is — by law — barred from being used in the primary.) 

My friend — who has experience in opposing Tillis strategist Paul Shumaker in campaigns — suggests that the Tillis campaign may have tipped their hand on their primary strategy with this $1 million mention:

“That tells me they have no serious intention of getting out on the rubber chicken circuit and pressing the flesh.  It tells me they intend to bombard the airwaves with ads the last month of the race and try to cruise to victory by the power of television.”

To me, that sounds very plausible.  In fact, I’ve seen it done before in a prior Shumaker-orchestrated campaign. In 2004, I was part of a rag-tag group of unpaid activists trying to unseat “co-speaker” Richard Morgan, who was in the midst of his reign of terror with co-conspirator Jim Black.  We recruited a political novice and very nice lady named Peggy Crutchfield to take on Morgan in the GOP primary.

morganMorgan refused to participate in any candidate forums or other public events.  He shook down enough people with interests before the state House to cobble together a high-six, low-seven figure war chest.  (Sound familiar?) We put together a treasury in the high five-figures.  There was one heck of a mountain to climb. But we thought Morgan’s arrogance, and public anger over his deal with Black, would work in our favor and compensate for the financial disparity.

Late in the campaign, you could not turn on your TV or radio without hearing or seeing — withing two minutes — a Richard Morgan campaign ad.  Morgan was able to paint himself in the most favorable light possible — unfiltered, directly to the voters.  We slugged it out to the very end.  Morgan ended up spending about $700,000.  We spent about $70,000.  Morgan won by roughly 200 votes.

Morgan earned two more years in Raleigh, but that race showed his enemies in the capital city that he could be taken down by a better-financed, better-organized, better-staffed opposing campaign.  He went down in the 2006 primary.



4 thoughts on “#NCSEN: Scheduling an ad buy vs. PAYING for it

  1. “That tells me they have no serious intention of getting out on the rubber chicken circuit and pressing the flesh. It tells me they intend to bombard the airwaves with ads the last month of the race and try to cruise to victory by the power of television.”

    Yes, we’ve seen this strategy a lot in recent years. It can work either way. Back in 2010 in the old 13th district, Bernie Reeves had the money and went with the air game, Randall’s people went with the ground game and a little money and won the all-important frontrunner spot in the first Primary, then completely dominated the Run-off to win the nomination.

    Flash forward two years into 2012 and the newly re-drawn 13th district and George Holding had a king’s ransom to throw into the race and thoroughly beat his other two under-funded opponents with an overwhelming air game to pick up the nomination.

  2. Unfortunately, too many are influenced by these TV ads. I pulled the plug on cable over 5 years ago,

    1. Buying races does not always work. Consider David Dewhurst in Texas. In 2012, he very substantially outspent Ted Cruz and had a lot more TV up. both positive on him and negative on Cruz. Cruz still whipped him pretty soundly. Now this year, Dewhurst again substantially outspent a conservative to be renominated for Lieutenant Governor, but the conservative got over 40% in the primary and Dewhurst less than 30%.

      There are plenty of other examples just like Dewhurst.

      1. Success or failure in the air game has a lot to do with THE MESSAGE…..taking the above mentioned NC-13 primary in 2012 for example, Holding went with one simple resonating theme…cut spending.

        Of course, he hasn’t exactly lived up to that promise (debt ceiling hikes hiding behind show votes, the Food Stamp bill, etc.), but the message sold.

        One of the stupidest messages I hear (at least when it’s pitched to Primary voters) is “Washington is broken and we need to fix it”. Utterly banal, totally unrealistic blather and the voters know it.

        They don’t care about “broken politics”, they care about losing life, liberty, and prosperity. A lot of pols don’t seem to grasp that which just shows how out of touch they really are.

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