Maryland Democratic gubernatorial campaigns diverge on media strategies

From left, Alec Ross, Krish Vignarajah, Rushern L. Baker III, Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Ben Jealous and Jim Shea.
From left, Alec Ross, Krish Vignarajah, Rushern L. Baker III, Richard S. Madaleno Jr., Ben Jealous and Jim Shea.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Shea spent $900,000 on media advertising during 26 days in late May and early June. Rival Ben Jealous spent almost $550,000.

Meanwhile, another candidate was conserving her resources. Krish Vignarajah spent only $6,000 on media but reached June 10 with the second-largest war chest and plans for a closing ad blitz.


The filings of the six remaining candidates in the June 26 primary for the nomination to challenge Gov. Larry Hogan reflect the divergent strategies adopted by their campaigns. They also show the fundraising and spending constraints that have kept all but two of them — Jealous and Rushern L. Baker III — in single digits in the polls.

A politically tuned-in Democratic voter who watches cable news by now is getting a steady diet of gubernatorial campaign ads. Watchers of Baltimore broadcast TV have seen plenty of ads, too. In recent weeks, Shea, Jealous and Baker have been particularly visible.


All three have resources to keep driving their message home.

Shea’s campaign, bolstered by his own money and donations from the legal profession, has the most money remaining. The Baltimore lawyer reported having $565,000 in cash on hand.

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Campaign manager Brian Doory said the money Shea has spent has been used effectively. He said Shea’s campaign is the only one on the Democratic side to run cable ads in every county and to broadcast ads in Baltimore, Washington and Salisbury.

“We’ve seen a noticeable effect as voters all across the state now recognize Jim and remember that he has a strong plan for education and, critically, the experience to implement it,” Shea campaign spokeswoman Kathryn Gilley said.

Jealous, the former NAACP president, had $385,000 in the bank as of June 10. His campaign said Saturday that it would spend $170,000 to run a new ad in the Baltimore media market.

A spokeswoman for Jealous, Jerusalem Demsas, said the campaign has concentrated its TV spending on the Baltimore media market, where air time is cheaper than in Washington. She noted that some independent groups that back Jealous have said they are planning to run cable TV ads in the Washington region.

Meanwhile, the money keeps rolling in to a campaign that’s been raising it at a rate of more than $14,000 a day.

“We’re raising money faster than ever,” Demsas said.

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Baker, the Prince George’s County executive, reported $245,000. Jealous and Baker are considered the front-runners, having tied at 16 percent each in this month’s Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll.

Baker spent $385,000 on media during the period between May 16 and June 10, using much of that to introduce himself to Baltimore voters with an ad touting his neighborhood improvement programs in Prince George’s County.

Baker spokeswoman Madeline Russak said it would be nice to have the personal wealth of Shea or the national donor network of Jealous, but she said Baker will have adequate resources.

Russak said Baker has ads up in the Baltimore area on broadcast and cable and is on cable in Montgomery County. In Prince George’s, he’s relying on “earned media” and his high name recognition there.


Vignarajah, a former aide to First Lady Michelle Obama and the only woman in the race, has adopted a contrarian strategy. She reported spending only $16,000, including salaries and office rent, in late May and early June. That left her with more than $500,000 for the final two weeks — enough for a sustained media campaign.

“We’ve just been more frugal with our money,” said campaign manager William Hanegan. He said Vignarajah has avoided expensive campaign consultants and only pays rent on one of her three campaign offices. The others are in the basements of her and her parents’ homes.

The six remaining Democrats running for ended their round of televised debates Thursday with few clashes and agreement on most issues.

Now Vignarajah is in the process of emptying her campaign coffers. Since June 10, her campaign has announced $290,000 in ad buys.

“We’re going to be going up on TV through the final day of the primary,” Hanegan said.

State Sen. Richard S. Madaleno has had the most memorable ad of the campaign. His 30-second “Take that, Trump” spot, closing with him and his husband kissing, received free media around the nation and even internationally. But even with public financing, he hasn’t kept up with his better-financed rivals.

Madaleno spent more than $185,000 on media during the reporting period, but had only $16,000 on hand and another $27,000 in public funds in the pipeline. At this point in 2014, Del. Heather Mizeur, who also took public financing, had almost $600,000 in the bank for her race for governor.

Keith Presley, Madaleno’s campaign manager, said the campaign has taken a different approach. Where Mizeur in 2014 and Vignarajah this year have saved their money until the end, Presley said, Madaleno’s strategy was to get on television early.

“We made the gamble to go up early when nobody else was to get our message through,” Presley said. He said Madaleno has prepaid much of his advertising for the final push.

Alec Ross, an author and former Obama administration official, spent almost $65,000 on media over that time, and has about $181,000 left.

Campaign spokesman Daniel Ensign said that is “more than enough” to last through the primary. He said Ross has concentrated his purchases on digital media such as Facebook.

“It’s a lot more cost-effective,” Ensign said. “We like the digital [media]. “We think it’s the way of the future.”

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