The final of the three main candidates seeking the Democratic endorsement for governor will begin airing political advertisements in the coming days — a late entry into an advertising cycle that has already cost more than $1 million.
Until now, Democratic endorsee Margaret Anderson Kelliher has been relying on grassroots, "people-powered" methods to tackle the governor’s race, campaign officials said. Kelliher’s two main competitors, Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads to varying degrees of success, according to experts and opinion polls.
Television is "the single most effective means of communication that you have to reach a large number of people in a short period of time," said Bill Hillsman, who worked on the Paul Wellstone and Jessie Ventura campaigns. "No other medium really holds a candle to it."
Political advertisements are also typically a campaign’s largest expenditure, Hillsman, president and chief creative officer of North Woods Advertising, said. They are often used to raise a candidate’s name recognition among voters, he said.
"Showing an ad doesn’t make somebody want to vote for you," Entenza campaign spokesman Jeremy Drucker said. "What it does is familiarize the voter with the candidate" and makes subsequent canvassing or phone calls more effective, he said.
For instance, the Dayton campaign began airing an initial 60-second advertisement to reintroduce voters to the former U.S. senator, deputy campaign manager Katharine Tinucci said.
Of the seven media markets in Minnesota, the two largest and most targeted are the Twin Cities and Duluth, Drucker said. The cost of an individual ad varies based on the market, time of day and the Nielsen rating of the program during which it airs, he said.
The Entenza campaign began running the ads shortly after the DFL convention in April, Drucker said, because Entenza isn’t as well known as the other candidates.
The campaign has spent about $850,000 flooding the airwaves so far.
Dayton’s status as a public figure allowed him to begin running ads June 14, closer to the primary. He has spent about $350,000, Tinucci said.
Both Hillsman and Tinucci noted that thus far in the campaign, Dayton has spent far less than he did during his 2000 campaign.
Entenza’s ads haven’t been particularly effective, Hillsman said. In a June 17 KSTP poll asking about 500 registered voters which candidate they would support in the primary, Entenza trailed with only 22 percent support, compared to 26 percent for Kelliher and 39 percent for Dayton. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percent
Because Republican candidate Tom Emmer doesn’t face a contentious primary battle, he’ll likely begin airing ads around Labor Day, Hillsman said.
The Kelliher campaign declined to comment on the specific timing, cost and frequency of her upcoming ads, except to say they would begin airing "within days."
While campaign officials said Kelliher has the resources to effectively win the race, Hillsman said it’s probable her late entry into the market stems from lack of money.
Until now, Kelliher has relied on the resources of the DFL party, which affords her 50 organizers and about 20,000 volunteers to run her campaign. She has focused that manpower on contacting likely Democratic voters using direct mail, phone calls and door-to-door visits, Kelliher campaign spokesman Matt Swenson said.
About 14 percent of eligible Minnesotans voted in the 2006 primary, according to a report written by David Schultz, an election expert and professor at Hamline University.
With an even lower turnout expected this year, grassroots campaigning is useful because it is more effective in spurring individuals to vote, Swenson said.
"[Kelliher] is betting on the notion that there will be lower turnout and that her constant contact with these faithful DFL voters is going to pay off even though she doesn’t have a very high profile on the airwaves," Hillsman said.
But even if she wins the primary, specifically targeting DFL members could harm Kelliher in the future, Hillsman said. She hasn’t targeted undecided and independent voters in the way Dayton has using TV ads, despite her extensive grassroots network, he said.
The campaigns, including those of Entenza and Dayton, are also using the Internet as a tool for grassroots campaigning, which is increasingly eroding TV’s market share.
Despite declining viewership, Hillsman said the Internet hasn’t overshadowed TV as the prime political campaigning medium yet. Tinucci agreed.
"[TV ads are] an important form of advertising still, even in the age of DVR and Internet and everything," she said. "We believe that they’re still effective and useful and important to the campaign."