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With money to spend, candidates for governor likely to launch ad blitz

Maryland voters can expect to see an escalating barrage of television ads before the June 24 primary for governor, a blitz that will be fueled by the nearly $9 million the contenders have in the bank.

Most of that money will be spent on the Democratic contest. Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown leads with about $4 million on hand, but Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has $3 million — enough to pay for a sustained presence on the air. And Del. Heather R. Mizeur, with nearly $1 million, says she'll be on TV as well.

On the Republican side, the four candidates have far less money and are likely to get their message out using radio, mailings, social media and other means. Larry Hogan has nearly $390,000 on hand and is expected to collect $275,000 in public financing soon. His second television ad, released this week, is running on cable.

With the campaigns expected to keep raising money through Election Day, spending by the Democrats alone during the last month of the primary race could reach $10 million.

Martha McKenna, a Democratic media consultant who ran Sheila Dixon's mayoral campaign, called that amount "just mind-blowing" and unprecedented in a Maryland primary.

"We will be inundated with information," she said. "They're not going to hang on to a single dollar. They're going to spend it all."

McKenna said she expects the biggest flurry of spending to come in the next two weeks before early voting starts June 12.

None of the GOP candidates for governor has half as much money on hand as Mizeur, the third-place Democrat.

Hogan, a former Ehrlich administration official, has more than double the cash on hand of his nearest rival, but only after lending $500,000 of his own money to the campaign.

Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College, said Hogan's finances are not in as good shape as his contributions and cash on hand suggest. But Eberly said Hogan's demonstrated ability to fund his campaign puts him in a better position than his three cash-strapped opponents.

"If he's feeling comfortable, he can pull this off. He may be willing to lend his campaign enough money to see that happens," Eberly said. He said Harford County Executive David R. Craig's report shows he might not be able to reach the minimum required for public financing. Del. Ron George and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar have far less than is considered necessary to mount a statewide campaign.

Political experts say the three Democrats all have a plausible case for success, though Mizeur remains a long shot given her relatively low name recognition as one of 188 lawmakers.

Justin Schall, Brown's campaign manager, said the lieutenant governor will advertise aggressively on TV through the primary. He also predicted a significant investment in early voting efforts and get-out-the-vote activities leading up to primary day.

Gansler's campaign has "more than enough to win," said spokeswoman Katie Hill. "We will continue to connect directly with voters on the airwaves and via mail, among other methods, to let them know about Doug's effective leadership as attorney general."

His campaign declined to disclose plans for the amount or location of future ad buys.

Steven Hershkowitz, a spokesman for Mizeur, said her campaign has been husbanding its resources in preparation for a media campaign in the final weeks. He said the ads Brown and Gansler have been airing for months haven't had much impact on voters.

"We have to be more efficient than the other two campaigns," he said. "We don't need as much money as the other campaigns to get our message out."

Hershkowitz said the campaign will have enough money to get its ads up on broadcast and cable TV in the Baltimore and Washington markets soon.

John T. Willis, a political science professor at the University of Baltimore and writer of a book on Maryland politics, said the results of the latest fundraising do not leave any of the three out.

"If you have $3 million in the bank, if you have $1 million in the bank, you can play," he said. He noted that there's precedent for less well-funded campaigns winning in Maryland.

In the Republican contest, none of the candidates has the resources to saturate the airwaves.

Adam Dubitsky, a spokesman for Hogan, said the campaign has spent about $675,000 and expects to spend a similar amount over the last month. He said Hogan will consider a broadcast time buy in the final weeks and would not rule out additional loans by the candidate.

Dubitsky said the campaign also plans a bus tour starting next month, carrying Hogan's message across the state.

Hogan's closest GOP rival in funding, Craig, reported having $144,000 on hand as of May 20, nearly $250,000 behind. Nevertheless, deputy campaign manager Brandon Wright predicted that Craig would muster the resources to compete.

"We've got a very robust voter contact plan that includes mail, includes TV, includes radio," Wright said.

George, who said he has about $41,000 on hand, declined to outline his strategy for the end game but said his numbers aren't as weak as they look.

"Let people think what they want. I can make money go a lot further than some," he said.

Only the Lollar campaign, with $18,000 in the bank, conceded that television ads are not in its plans. But a Lollar spokesman insisted that his candidate is still in it to win with grass-roots efforts.

"The measure of a campaign is not how much you have to spend," said spokesman Bob Carlstrom. "The measure of a campaign is how many votes you get."

One question that remains is the tone of the race that voters will see play out in the coming weeks. The GOP's Hogan is already taking aim at the Democrats.

Eberly said that in the Democratic contest, voters will see a lot more negative ads. For Gansler, he said, there's really no choice.

"He's got to continue to undermine confidence in Brown," Eberly said.

But McKenna said that with so many voters undecided, it is important for candidates to tell their own stories.

"Late negative at this point could backfire," she said. "I'd encourage the candidates to stay positive and stay focused on who they are."

Money to spend

Here's how much the campaigns report having on hand:

Democrats

Brown/Ulman: $4.1 million

Gansler/Ivey: $3.1 million

Mizeur/Coates: $961,000

Republicans

Craig/Haddaway: $144,000

George/Aloi: $41,000

Hogan/Rutherford: $389,000

Lollar/Timmerman: $18,000

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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