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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Brown’s Ad Strategy May Provide Good Template

Democratic candidates and campaign workers gearing up for ’12 statewide races, particularly those facing wealthy Republican opponents, should take a couple of minutes to read the L.A. Times analysis of campaign spending and budgeting in the race for the California governorship. The article, by Seema Mehta and Maeve Reston, provides a highly instructive breakdown comparing not only expenditures, but the timing of outlays for the Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman campaigns, as indicated by recently-published financial disclosure reports .
Of course the caveat is that the California campaign was extraordinary in that Whitman set records for spending and she also had a tough primary campaign. In addition, “Brown entered the race with $100 million of name ID,” as Whitman campaign consultant Rob Stutzman put it. What is instructive, however, is how the Brown campaign marshalled its far more limited economic resources, and his strategy may provide a useful template for underfunded Democratic candidates nationwide. Here’s an excerpt:

Meg Whitman vastly outspent Jerry Brown on virtually every facet of the 2010 contest for governor. From focus groups and consultants to private planes and lavish fundraisers, Whitman campaigned like the billionaire she is, spending $177 million to Brown’s $36 million.

The article goes on to compare Brown’s and Whitman’s expenditures for travel, direct mail, signs, event staging, consultants and staff. But the most important revelation:

But in one key area — television advertising — the Democrat nearly kept pace with Whitman during the final sprint of the campaign, allowing him to make his case to voters before they cast ballots…”By holding our fire, we were competitive in the final month and almost equal in the final four weeks,” Brown’s campaign manager, Steve Glazer, said.
…As is customary in California campaigns, both candidates poured the bulk of their money into communicating with voters through television and radio advertisements. Whitman spent more than $120 million — two-thirds of her campaign treasury — producing and airing commercials. Brown spent for that purpose nearly three-quarters of the $40 million he raised. Between Sept. 1 and Election Day, Whitman spent $40 million buying airtime to Brown’s $29 million. But much of Brown’s spending occurred in the final month, allowing him to maximize his efforts precisely when voters were preparing to cast ballots.

So even in cutting-edge California, home of the digital vanguard, television still rules as the primary conveyance of political persuasion. The L.A. Times analysis does not take into account the quality of the candidates’ ads and Whitman’s image problems. But it does indicate that, investing heavily in air time during the final campaign weeks can offset an opponent’s overall economic advantage.

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