Democrats outspending GOP on TV in top governor races

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Sept. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Democratic candidates running for governor in some of the most critical swing states are vastly outspending their Republican rivals, with just weeks to go before an election in which hundreds of thousands of voters have already cast their ballots.

A review of television advertising data maintained by AdImpact, a nonpartisan monitoring firm, shows Democrats and outside groups that back them have outspent Republicans and their allies in nine of the 11 most expensive contests to be decided this year.

All told, the two sides have spent more than $725 million on television advertisements that have already aired or will air before November’s elections. Democrats and their allies account for $416 million, while Republicans have spent or reserved nearly $300 million in airtime. An independent candidate in Oregon has dropped almost $9 million on her bid to win the governorship.

“In a difficult year where we are defending the largest number of incumbents since 2006, neither our candidates nor the DGA is taking anything for granted. We’re going to make sure voters understand the vast differences and the high stakes in these elections,” said David Turner, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association.

In some instances, the disparities are huge. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and groups that support her have spent a combined $43.9 million on television spots. Her opponent, online talk show host Tudor Dixon (R), and Republican outside groups have spent a combined $6.1 million — a $37.8 million gap.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) has spent $38 million on television spots, while allied Democratic groups have added another $4.5 million. State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), who won the Republican primary with support from former President Donald Trump, only recently began airing his own advertisements; Mastriano and his supporters have aired or booked just $8.9 million on television.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) has vastly outspent his Republican rival, businessman Tim Michels, by a margin of almost $20 million. Democratic candidates in Nevada, Illinois and Arizona have all built steady advantages over their Republican opponents.

So has former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D), who has benefitted from big spending by a political action committee she built after her failed run for governor in 2018; Abrams’s campaign has spent nearly 10 times as much as Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) campaign, and Democratic outside groups have dropped $31 million on the race, compared with $21 million spent by groups backing Kemp.

But the spending disparities have yielded wildly varying results, and Republicans say they remain in a strong position to pick up seats in November.

“Democrats have proven money doesn’t solve all problems,” said Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association. “More than a half dozen of their incumbent governors sit in a vulnerable position less than four weeks from Election Day. Personal scandals, bad policies that have led to increased crime and inflation, and a toxic president they’ve worked with in lockstep are a permanent drag on their campaigns.”

Polls show Whitmer, Shapiro and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) leading their opponents by wide margins. But Evers and Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) are locked in virtual ties with their Republican opponents. In Arizona, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) and former television newscaster Kari Lake (R) are running neck and neck.

Despite her spending advantage, Abrams trails Kemp in every public survey. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll published Wednesday showed Kemp leading Abrams 51%-41%, a slight increase in Kemp’s advantage over the newspaper’s survey in September.

Florida is the lone exception, a state where the Republican incumbent — Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — is outspending his Democratic challenger, former Rep. Charlie Crist (D). In the Sunshine State, Republicans have spent almost $42 million more on televised ads than have Crist and his allies.

“If money was the only thing that mattered in winning, President Bloomberg would be meeting with folks in the John Connelly room at the White House,” said David Carney, a longtime Republican strategist who advises Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Abbott himself faces a well-funded challenge from former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), the latest in a string of Democrats who say they can reverse Texas’s long stay in the red column. Abbott’s campaign has spent $38 million on advertising, compared with $22.8 million for O’Rourke, but Democratic outside groups have helped narrow the gap with $15 million in spending on O’Rourke’s behalf. The two sides are at virtual parity — but Abbott, public and private polls show, maintains a healthy lead.

Still, Democrats are poised to reclaim governorships in two states where Republicans have held control in recent years — both states where GOP nominees have mounted little in the way of paid advertising campaigns.

Maryland Del. Dan Cox (R) has only just begun airing television ads; polls show nonprofit executive Wes Moore (D) well ahead in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) is similarly set to replace Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who decided against running for a third term; her opponent, former state Rep. Geoff Diehl (R), has yet to run an advertisement.