The only way you're going to avoid an ad on the governor's race is by avoiding TV entirely. The candidates for governor, the state parties and outside interest groups have basically wallpapered Twin Cities TV shows with ads. It's not only the local newcasts.
The ads will appear on shows ranging from Ugly Betty to CSI to Martha Stewart.
"But there's more to do," Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty says in this ad on property taxes. "Like putting a cap on property taxes. Mike Hatch opposes it. I'll fight for it."
"Governor Pawlenty protects insurance companies, HMOs and special interests," DFLer Mike Hatch says in this ad on health insurance. "As governor, I'll protect you."
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"These guys," Indendence Party member Peter Hutchinson says in his latest ad. "They don't want to tell you what they're going to do or how they're going to do it. Let alone talk about the stuff that is really important to Minnesotans."
A documents search at the major Twin Cities TV stations and Comcast Cable in St. Paul shows that 3,162 ads focusing on the governor's race are scheduled to run in the final weeks of the campaign. The total pricetag: $1.6 million.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is leading the pack. He has $556,930 in ads scheduled over the next two weeks. Pawlenty insists the ads aren't his only strategy. He announced plans this week to tour the state in the final days of the campaign. He says part of the reason he hasn't been out more is because he needed to spend time raising money to pay for all of the ads.
"That takes a lot of time," Pawlenty said. "That has essentially been done and so now we're able to move to the retail phase more fully. We've been doing it all along but this is now, I don't want to say the sole focus, but the primary focus of the campaign.
DFLer Mike Hatch is second in the number of ads scheduled. He reserved $546,910 worth of ads for the next two weeks. Like Pawlenty, Hatch is spending the largest portion of his money at WCCO-TV, which has the highest ratings in the evening newscasts. Hatch says he also plans to shift the tone of his ads in the next two weeks of the campaign.
"You run the ads because you're trying to convey a message" Hatch said. "Hopefully we convey a positive message and the candidates will do that and we can get off of this negative attack mode that's been going on. You try to supplement it by going and generating some enthusiasm and thanking people for their work."
Hatch may be able to play the good cop because the DFL Party and the outside interest groups can play the bad cop. The DFL Party has scheduled at least $330,000 in ads in the final weeks. The DFL ads have criticized Pawlenty for higher property taxes and for taking contributions from the CEO of UnitedHealth Group. One also accused him of allowing sex offenders to be placed in nursing homes.
The Alliance for a Better Minnesota is also targeting Pawlenty. The group, funded by DFL donors, Indian tribes and labor unions, has scheduled $87,000 worth of ads on cable TV in the north metro and the eastern Twin Cities suburbs.
Dave Foster, with the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, says the group is running the ads to tell voters that the state is headed in the wrong direction.
"Our goal is to reach voters who have not yet made their minds up," Foster said. "Or those voters who's point of view most closely resembles our point of view of reaching voters who care about health care and education issues."
The Minnesota Republican Party is also running ads in the race. The party scheduled $37,700 in ad time over the next two weeks.
Peter Hutchinson, the Independence Party candidate for governor, is spending a fraction of what Pawlenty and Hatch are spending on ads. Hutchinson has scheduled $79,390 on ads between late September and November 1. He said Pawlenty and Hatch's ad buys are just the kind of overkill that drives citizens crazy.
"Their strategies are pretty clear," Hutchinson said. "Somehow I think they believe that if they just bombard us with enough thirty second ads that it will make up with not going out and talking to citizens face to face."
But Ron Faber, a communications professor at the University of Minnesota, says the massive ad buy is meant to reach the widest number of voters before Election Day. He says close contests, like the governor's race, could be determined by the undecided voter. That means the campaigns have to make one final pitch to that group.
"Most people make up their minds earlier in a campaign," Faber said. "But there are some undecideds and those undecideds may be swayed by either a particular message or by a particular concern of one issue over another issue."
Faber says the other reason for the massive ad buy is defense. He says no candidate can stand by and watch as their opponents flood the airwaves. And make no mistake, the airwaves will be flooded because the $1.6 million being spent in this race doesn't include ads scheduled for the U.S. Senate candidates, congressional hopefuls and other offices.