Democratic incumbents hoping to retain roles as Minnesota's top lawyer, chief election officer and lead government watchdog are preparing to launch TV offensives to raise their profiles ahead of November's election.
Overshadowed by a competitive race for governor, the three incumbents plan to put large shares of their campaign budgets into advertising, according to files at Twin Cities television stations and the region's dominant cable provider.
Attorney General Lori Swanson locked in nearly $240,000 in Twin Cities-area ad time, according to records examined by The Associated Press. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie reserved at least $130,000 worth of ads due to start running next week. State Auditor Rebecca Otto paid slightly less for a month's worth of commercials.
Files available Monday at a couple of the network TV stations didn't reflect any purchases for Otto or Ritchie, which means their spending could grow once the records are updated. None of the Republicans in the three races had lined up TV time.
“The offices, the races and the candidates all suffer from far fewer free media opportunities than do the gubernatorial candidates.”John Rash, University of Minnesota
Twin Cities stations serve the majority of Minnesota's population and are the most expensive for ads. Ad money goes further in places like Duluth, Mankato and Rochester.
Swanson, Ritchie and Otto all had substantial fundraising leads and more money in the bank than their GOP opponents as of late July. Lawyer R. Chris Barden is the Republican nominee for attorney general, state Rep. Dan Severson is running for secretary of state and former state Auditor Patricia Anderson hopes to reclaim the job she lost four years ago.
Severson said Tuesday he has no plans to run ads because of a tight budget. "Raising dollars in this depressed economy has been challenging," he said. "In order to get the amount of exposure you need for TV it goes beyond the budget for a race like ours."
Aides were looking into the ad plans of Barden and Anderson.
The ad buys provide a window into campaign strategy for the incumbents. State law limits the amount candidates can spend on their races, and the commercial allowances eat up more than half of the $215,000 limits for Ritchie and Otto. Swanson has more room, though, because Barden's decision to forgo a public campaign subsidy frees her from fundraising and spending limits.
John Rash, a former Minneapolis ad executive who teaches mass media and politics at the University of Minnesota, said limited funds make TV commercials a luxury in those races but afford the most visible type of outreach.
"The offices, the races and the candidates all suffer from far fewer free media opportunities than do the gubernatorial candidates," Rash said. "The biggest challenge is cutting through the clutter of congressional and gubernatorial races."
Swanson campaign manager Brian Bergson said her ads haven't been filmed yet but will be positive.
Otto said her spots will focus on what she's done in her four years. Despite the relatively small amount she can spend, Otto said she considers TV "the most cost effective way to reach voters."
A message left with Ritchie's campaign wasn't immediately returned.
They're not the only ones lower on the ticket who are reserving time for ads in contests against financially overmatched opponents. Two congressional Republicans have put commercial plans into action.
Freshman Rep. Erik Paulsen is a couple of weeks into a $1 million ad campaign during which he plans to run his spots more than 4,400 times before Election Day. Democratic challenger Jim Meffert, a first-time candidate, hasn't reserved any TV time.
Rep. John Kline in Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District has purchased $140,000 in commercial time for the campaign's final two weeks. He faces former Democratic state Rep. Shelly Madore, who has had no TV presence.
In the last round of campaign finance reports, made public in July, Paulsen's $1.4 million bank balance amounted to a 46-to-1 cash advantage over Meffert. Likewise, Kline's $457,000 was 70 times more than Madore had then.
Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, who is seeking a third term in a southern Minnesota district, will launch his ad campaign in mid-October. So far he has locked in $165,000 in ad time in the Twin Cities area, although many of his constituents are served by other television markets. He faces GOP state Rep. Randy Demmer in November.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)