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Senate ad spending worries gubernatorial candidates
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
July 25, 2002

Though it's still relatively early on the campaign calendar, Minnesota's U.S. Senate race has had the kind of high profile that many races don't attain until closer to November. That's largely because the campaigns of DFL incumbent Sen. Paul Wellstone and Republican challenger Norm Coleman took to the airwaves with ads months ago. We're likely to see even more of both Senate candidates showing up in television spots through the fall, and that's begun to concern campaign strategists for some of the state's gubernatorial candidates. As the election nears, airtime will become scarcer and the gubernatorial campaigns worry they'll get squeezed out of the picture.

KSTP-TV General Sales Manager Trey Fabacher says his station has seen a steady flow of advertising on behalf of the Coleman and Wellstone campaigns. He expects the ads to increase significantly in the coming months. Though neither Coleman or Wellstone have bought time for September and October, Fabacher predicts the rush to fill the airwaves will begin soon.

"The big questions are when it's going to hit overdrive," Fabacher said. "I think they're going to spend as much as they can spend in the marketplace. It's just a question of when it will hit heavily."

Fabacher says his station has a limited amount of space. He predicts a large amount of ad space for the crucial political month of October will be bought by Labor Day. That will drive up cost and availability. If Fabacher's predictions hold true, candidates for other offices may have a limited amount of prime airtime available.

That particularly worries the state's gubernatorial candidates who also rely on the airwaves to increase their name recognition and get their messages out.

Jack Uldrich, the campaign manager for Independence Party candidate Tim Penny, says he's already started contacting a number of media firms in hopes of nailing a few specific time slots to run their ads.

"It is a real concern to us," Uldrich stated. "We're getting into it late, we're going to have limited resources so we know we have to find the right markets at the right times and the question is are those times in markets available now. Because there is all of this money in the process."

Uldrich says he didn't think the Penny campaign would be able to raise as much money as DFL candidate Roger Moe or Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty so they weren't planning on spending much on radio and television.

None of the gubernatorial candidates will likely be able to compete dollar-for-dollar with the major Senate candidates, who are expected to make this the most expensive Senate race in state history.

Pat Forceia, campaign manager for DFL candidate Roger Moe, says the four major party candidates don't have a large amount of personal wealth to spend. All four candidates agreed to the state's spending limits of $2.5 million. Forceia says they've known for a while the Senate race would make it difficult to buy as many ads as they'd like. He says the governor's race will come down to the political debates, face-to-face time with voters and how journalists cover their candidates.

"We are all under extra pressure to communicate via retail politics, old fashioned politics as effectively as we can," Forceia said. "It makes everything else, all of the nonpaid media opportunities from parades to debates to door knocking to everything else that much more important because there is no way any of us will win simply relying on a television campaign to get us over the finish line."

Forceia also says Moe will campaign as much as possible with Wellstone.

A spokesman for Republican candidate Tim Pawlenty wouldn't say if Pawlenty plans to make appearances with senate candidate Coleman. Spokesman Tim Morin says he expects Pawlenty to run a traditional campaign with a few surprises.

"People are interested in the business of the state of Minnesota as well as a lot of different levels of government and I think from Tim's perspective he has a great message; kids, jobs, roads. When you have a good, clear concise focused message people will listen."

College of St. Catherine political science professor Lilly Goren says she expects the DFL and Republican candidates for statewide office to appear together a lot in the coming months. Goren also predicts the parties and special interest groups will run joint ad campaigns as the election nears.

"I think there will probably be some types of cooperative efforts with some of the gubernatorial candidates and the senatorial candidates with possibly the sharing of funds from the national parties and national fund raising groups.

Green Party candidate Ken Pentel's campaign manager did not return calls for this report.