In TV Airtime, a Candidate Looks Invincible

Posted by Christine Ayala and Bobby Blanchard - Texas Tribune on

It would take more than 10 days to watch all the ad spots on broadcast television that the campaign of Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Texas governor, has bought from July to Election Day.

Abbott, the state’s attorney general and widely considered the front-runner for governor, has bought more than 250 hours of time, more than all of the other statewide candidates combined. Only candidates for governor in Illinois, Florida and Pennsylvania have spent more on TV time in 2014, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which tracks campaign ads.

Abbott’s commercials include positive messages showcasing support from Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and the head of a PAC aiming to engage women in elections, and attack ads portraying his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, as a Barack Obama clone.

The Texas campaign information is according to contracts for more than 44,000 political ad spots bought in the largest media markets from July 1 to Oct. 17 and filed with the Federal Communications Commission. It includes ads bought on NBC, ABC, Fox, CBS, CW, Telemundo and Univision affiliates. The data does not include cable ad buys, and some broadcast stations in Texas have not yet submitted all of their political ad orders to the FCC.

Abbott spent more than $12.8 million on broadcast TV ads throughout the state during that period, while Davis spent $6.8 million, according to commission documents. Abbott’s campaign declined to comment.

A spokeswoman for Davis said her campaign had spent more than $14 million on broadcast TV, cable and radio ads, but did not specify how much of that had been bought since July.

Davis has been better financed than other recent Democratic candidates for governor in Texas, where no Democrat has won any statewide election in two decades.

“That makes her more able to buy more ads than most Democrats, but it also makes her a more viable candidate, which also encourages Greg Abbott to buy more TV,” said Harold Cook, an Austin-based Democratic political consultant.

Abbott has a formidable supply of money. Earlier this year, he broke the record for the largest amount on hand ever reported by a candidate in Texas: $35.6 million.

“He has been in the position to significantly outspend his opponent in the final three weeks of the race," said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based Republican consultant. “That is when people are paying the most attention. It will allow him to win undecided votes by a healthy margin."

Though both campaigns have said they are focusing on Hispanic voters, Abbott has spent more than twice as much as Davis on ads on the Spanish-language broadcast stations Telemundo and Univision, according to FCC data.

Abbott and Davis have bought more broadcast ads in Dallas-Fort Worth — the fifth-largest media market in the nation and the biggest in Texas — than anywhere else in the state.

Haley Beth Davis, an ad buyer in Dallas for several Republican campaigns, said candidates often buy time during newscasts because they draw active voters. Sporting events and prime time are also popular.

“We start with the newscast, and then we branch out from there, depending on the level of budget we have,” she said.

Ads during newscasts cost nothing compared with football airtime. Davis said she spent $24,650 to buy a single 30-second ad sometime during NFL Sunday football on Oct. 5. In mid-September, Abbott spent $34,000 to air a 30-second ad during another game.

One of the cheapest ad times is during Family Feud in Abilene. Abbott’s campaign bought a few at $10 per 30-second spot.

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