Hide your TV: Political ad blitz is shaping up

Posted 1:34 p.m. | Updated at 3 p.m.

Political groups on both ends of a Minnesota governor's race anticipated to be competitive are locking in television advertising time in huge chunks, previewing what will be a fall campaign saturated with attack ads.

The Republican Governors Association has reserved more than $2 million in ad time for the weeks leading up to Election Day. The ad purchase, first reported by The Associated Press, gives the group a leg up on a commodity that's going to be in short supply this year: Time for the ads to air.

An RGA official said buying early also allows the group to save money because rates rise closer to the election. The Minnesota reservations are part of a round of ad purchases in states from Florida to Arizona.

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"The RGA is committed to flipping the governorship and this ad buy is just the beginning of our efforts. By booking this ad buy ahead of other campaigns and groups, the RGA will save considerable resources," said RGA spokesman Jon Thompson.

Meanwhile, the Democratic-aligned Alliance for a Better Minnesota has been quietly gobbling up time, too. The group is slated to go up with broadcast television and cable spots just after Labor Day, but its inquiries with stations suggest an August start is possible. A spokeswoman wouldn't say how much in total time has been secured, but based on records at one Twin Cities station the cost is certainly in the millions.

The organization that has been a conduit for money from labor unions and other noted Democratic donors doesn't have to declare which race or races the ads will focus on. In the past, the group has been active in both governor's contests and legislative races. The Democratic Governors Association has partnered with the alliance previously and appears to be staging for that in 2018, too, with $2.5 million in a Minnesota campaign account as of Jan. 1.

DGA spokesman David Turner said Democrats will aim to remind voters of Pawlenty's track record and his time as a financial services industry lobbyist.

"He’s going to have a hard enough time reacquainting himself with Minnesota Republicans, let alone reinventing himself for general election voters," Turner said.

If the outlook of the race changes between now and then, the groups can always cancel their spending and shift the money to elections elsewhere.

But seven months out, Minnesota is listed among the top governor's races nationally. That's in part because of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's retirement. Republicans see the chance to win total control of state government, given its House and Senate majorities. And last week, former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced he would try to regain the job he gave up after 2010.

It's not just the governor's race either.

Minnesota has two U.S. Senate races and four closely watched congressional contests, all of which will add many millions of dollars in ads to the airwaves. The House Majority PAC, which is connected to Democrats, has reserved time, but other groups are expected to as well.  The outside spending is separate from the ads the candidates in those races will run.

By this weekend, federal candidates will disclose their fundraising activity for the first three months of 2018, offering an early indication of the barrage ahead.