Writings and observations

Buying TV

By all means run over – when you’re done here – to the post at Loaded Orygun about how much candidates and committees have been spending in Portland’s television media market.

There are some some limitations on this as an absolute overview of Oregon TV buys this campaign season. The big one is that there are other, albeit much smaller, TV markets in Oregon as well – Eugene, Medford/Klamath Falls, Bend (and the latter should no longer be an afterthought). But as an indicator of who’s buying, this Portland survey will do well indeed.

The first stiking item is who’s buying big. Three entities have bought over 1,000 spots on Portland TV so far – Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton, Oregonians Against Insurance Rate Increases/No on 42, and Mike Erickson. After those three, the number of spots by a specific buyer falls by mre than half.

One thing all three of those campaigns have in common is this: They are underdogs with deep pockets.

Deepest of all is the insurance industry, which has been spending millions to oppose Measure 42 – the one that would bar insurance companies from using credit ratings in setting coverage or premium levels – while its backer, Bill Sizemore, says he’s literally spending nothing. What that tells us: This is an idea popular enough that budgets of millions, will be needed to keep it from passing, and that still may not be enough. It is the most remarkable such case on the ballot.

Not quite as deep are the pockets of Mike Erickson, whose hardcore air war against Democratic Representative Darlene Hooley – reciprocated fully – will be interesting to watch play out. We’re skeptical about its efficacy.

Saxton, who has been a candidate for governor in the current cycle for a year or so, has been consistently behind Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski – although apparently, according to the latest polls, not by much. This effort is the leverage of raw money to win points, or at least lower the gap, and that he may have done to some extent. His 2,879 spots in the Portland market matches against Kulongoski’s 387 – a gap of more than 7-1. That Kulongoski apparently remains ahead, and that the race has changed so little fundamentally, (and that the governor has spent so little of his own money so far, probably keeping him competitive in the next few weeks) may say something.

A recent lesson from across the Columbia may be pertinent. In the couple of months leading up to the mid-September Washington state primary, Chief Justice Gerry Alexander was the target of millions of dollars of broadcast attack ads, to which his side responded but with far fewer dollars – maybe about a third as many. Alexander won the election decisively.

There may be limits to how many votes these spots can buy. We’ll know more about that, soon.

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