Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall hold considerable leads in New Mexico TV advertising.
Since Jan. 1, the two incumbents have accounted for $2.9 million of the state’s $5.3 million in ad spending, and more than half of the more than 15,000 ads already run or scheduled to run before Nov. 4, a New Mexico In Depth analysis shows.
NMID’s examination is based on contracts political campaigns signed with New Mexico TV stations to schedule time to run political ads that were reported to the Federal Communications Commission. New Mexico In Depth will begin weekly updates on the analysis starting Monday through the end of the campaign season.
In contrast to the national ad market and highly competitive states such as Colorado, where super political action committees and nonprofits are outspending candidates, candidates for New Mexico’s state and federal offices bought almost all of the 380 ad buys from Jan. 1 through Sept. 12, analysis shows.
“Political advertising volume and spending is first and foremost driven by competitiveness,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzes political television advertising.
And New Mexico’s top races aren’t that competitive.
Cook Political Report, a national firm that analyzes political races, for instance, rates Udall’s seat as solid Democratic even though the first-term Democrat is running against former GOP state chairman and unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial candidate, Republican Allen Weh. Likewise, Cook rates the New Mexico governor’s race, in which first-term Republican Martinez is seeking a second term against outgoing Democratic Attorney General Gary King, as likely Republican.
In contrast, a few hundred miles north, people in Denver can’t seem to escape the barrage of political advertising. The Denver market was the busiest in the nation between Aug. 29 and Sept. 11, with local stations airing more than 5,600 ads, the Wesleyan Media Project found.
With a U.S. Senate race and a congressional seat that are considered toss-ups, Colorado has seen more than $63 million in ad contracts this year. Much of that money is being spent by groups such as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on the Democratic side and Crossroads GPS on the Republican side. Two Democratic candidates are even running ads on Albuquerque stations in Farmington and Durango, Colo., to reach Colorado voters who get those channels.
For instance, Tom Udall’s cousin, Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, faces a stiff battle from GOP Rep. Cory Gardner as Republicans try to win the Senate. Cook ranks the race a tossup. And while the two candidates are spending heavily, so are at least a dozen outside groups.
In contrast, outside groups are spending little on advertising in New Mexico.
The Republican Governor’s Association is the only national group weighing in on candidate races. The RGA spent about $330,000 in June on ads supporting Martinez, who serves on the group’s executive committee.
“They want to show support for Martinez, but she has a lot of money on her own. The race, though it has tightened, it’s still not neck and neck,” said Lonna Atkeson, University of New Mexico political science professor and director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy. “They can spend it elsewhere and have better bang for their dollar.”
Again, it’s a matter of competitiveness.
“Maybe in two years we’ll be a more pivotal state,” said Paula Maes, president and CEO of the New Mexico Broadcasters Association. “I think in previous years, especially during a presidential election, we got a lot more money.”
A look at the details
Run all the ads scheduled for New Mexico’s TV stations back-to-back and you’d be getting your fill of political spin for five and a quarter days.
Republicans are outspending Democrats, largely because of Martinez’s $1.8 million in ad buys.
The buys NMID analyzed include only traditional TV stations, which are required to file contracts online. The analysis doesn’t include buys on cable or satellite TV or radio.
One mismatch in ad buy dollars is in the New Mexico governor’s race.
King managed to defeat six other candidates with 35 percent of the vote in the June Democratic primary even though he wasn’t the top ad spender. He’s doubled up on ad spending since then, pushing his total to $358,000. But that’s a fifth of what Martinez has spent since she began buying ads in April and maintaining a steady presence on TV.
“That’s a resource issue,” Atkeson said. “She has lots and lots and lots of money. He doesn’t have the resources to put the ads on.”
Atkeson noted that King held a news conference Wednesday criticizing one of Martinez’s TV ads.
“He’s looking for earned media more,” she said.
Here’s a look at spending and number of spots by advertiser:
Do ads matter?
Most political ads run during prime evening viewing hours.
But ask Fowler and other academics, and they’ll say the race to buy up TV time may not be the best use of campaign cash.
“Typically your television ad strategy is going after the swing voters and those who don’t pay a lot of attention to politics,” Fowler said. “They are targeting a very small segment of the public who haven’t made up their minds, the persuadable voters.”
Then there’s the question of volume.
Martinez has scheduled time through Election Day, including ads on Spanish-language stations. King, on the other hand, hasn’t been on traditional TV airwaves since late August.
King campaign spokesman Phil Sisneros said the Democratic campaign is running ads on Navajo-language radio stations in northwestern New Mexico, and expects to return to TV at some point.
“We want to get the most for our money, since we don’t have Texas oil companies pouring it down the chimney of our campaign headquarters,” Sisneros said.
Falling behind in the ad race can be a problem, however, Fowler said.
“The worst thing a campaign can imagine is being outmatched in that advertising air war,” she said. “Campaigns care primarily about winning.”
As for the Martinez campaign, when asked about TV advertising, spokesman Chris Sanchez replied via email.
“We do not discuss campaign strategy, but we plan to continue telling voters about Governor Martinez’s accomplishments that are moving our state forward,” Sanchez wrote.
To analyze New Mexico ad spending, NMID data journalist Sandra Fish initially worked from a download of ad filings from the Sunlight Foundation, viewing hundreds of links to PDFs filed by TV stations and entering air dates, buy amounts, number of spots purchased and contract numbers. She then used the FCC site to review each station that airs in New Mexico, including some based in El Paso and Lubbock, to check for contracts that were missed and add them to the database. She checked for duplicate contract numbers, numbers that appeared high or low and more, and removed filings that weren’t actual ad buys. If you believe there are errors or omissions, contact Fish: email@example.com.