Whitmer, Schuette battle for TV ad time in final weeks of campaign

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Bill Schuette, shake hands before their second debate, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 in Detroit.

Lansing — Republican Bill Schuette is being outspent on television ads as he seeks to gain ground in the final weeks of the gubernatorial election but could benefit from a late influx of cash from GOP groups.

A pending $1.2 million ad buy announced Wednesday by the Michigan GOP and Republican Governors Association comes as Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer prepare for high-profile surrogates to join them on the ground to compliment ad blitzes on the air.

Former President Barack Obama will rally with Whitmer on Friday in Detroit, while Schuette is expected to campaign with Vice President Mike Pence on Monday in Grand Rapids.

Whitmer and allies outspent Schuette and Republicans by nearly a 2-to-1 margin on broadcast television ads between Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, according to an analysis of Kantar Media tracking by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. While total partisan spending in the general election has been nearly even, Democrats spent about $1 million on broadcast ads last week, compared with roughly $600,000 for Republicans.

Additional broadcast and cable ad buy data from Democratic campaigns suggest the trend was poised to continue over the final two weeks of the campaign. The $1.2 million GOP buy would likely close the gap but not fully erase it.

In Metro Detroit, the state’s largest media market, Whitmer and allies had been set to enjoy a roughly $730,000 advantage on broadcast and cable television in the final week before the election, according to Democrats.

Whitmer’s campaign, downplaying a new Detroit Free Press poll indicating that Schuette was gaining ground, on Wednesday claimed momentum by arguing that outside GOP groups have “dramatically slashed” their investments in the governor’s race, a claim Republicans quickly denied.

“Schuette ... is being badly outspent on TV during the final two weeks of the campaign as Republican outside groups have all but left him for dead,” Whitmer campaign manager Eric Goldman said in a statement. “While Gretchen is in a strong position to win this race, we aren’t taking anything for granted. Our campaign will keep our foot on the gas.”

At least one GOP group, Americans For Prosperity, has scaled back spending in the governor’s race. The group remains active on the ground but has not aired television ads in several weeks after spending nearly $4 million to attack Whitmer earlier in the cycle.

But the Michigan GOP is pumping money into the race and remains “all in for Bill Schuette, as is the RGA, because we know that Bill will keep Michigan moving forward” said spokeswoman Sarah Anderson.

There is “zero truth” behind Democratic claims that “anyone is pulling out of the governor’s race,” she said.

 “This race continues to tighten despite Whitmer and her dark-money allies outspending us by millions. Peddling this rumor is nothing more than a desperate attempt to change the narrative.”

The RGA in September scaled back a Michigan ad reservation but disputed reports it had cut its budget here. The group has continued to air TV ads to boost Schuette and, as of Wednesday, did not have any significant airtime reserved for the final week of the campaign.

But the RGA “will be on the air in Michigan through Election Day,” said spokesman Jon Thompson. “We are still working on a few things for that last week, as there are a lot of moving pieces with 36 governor's races, and we are on air in over 22 of them, but we will have a presence in the last week on TV."

The RGA doesn’t typically announce media strategy ahead of execution, but the group is not ending its ad support for Schuette, Thompson said. “Gretchen Whitmer wishes that was true.”

A late contribution report filed Tuesday by the RGA Michigan political action committee listed more than 50 major donations pouring in from around the country, including $150,000 from Kentucky entrepreneur Peter Forcht, $72,500 from Wyoming businessman Foster Friess and $50,000 from Coors Brewing Vice Chairman Peter Coors of Colorado.

A separate RGA Michigan super political action committee on Thursday reported raising more than $4.7 million between July 21 and Oct. 20, including $250,000 from Pfizer Inc., $225,000 from Wal-Mart and $125,000 from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. The PAC has mostly spent on ads opposing Whitmer.

The Michigan governor’s race had already attracted more than $61 million in campaign donations and outside spending through last week, according to an analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. With new disclosure reports due by the end of the week, those trackable totals are sure to rise.

A Stronger Michigan, a group linked to the Democratic Governors Association, has been the largest outside spender so far and had pumped $7.9 million into the race to benefit Whitmer as of Sept. 30, according to the analysis. Two GOP groups, the RGA and AFP, had spent a combined $8.2 million to benefit Schuette.

A Stronger Michigan raised $8,373,550 through Sept. 30, according to a federal filing, including $750,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, $1.5 million from the DGA and $1.58 million from Progressive Advocacy Trust, a mysterious group whose internal donors are not known.

Schuette and Whitmer competed in their final televised debate Wednesday night. Both candidates have high-profile surrogates coming to Michigan in coming days as they seek to energize supporters to get out the vote.

Obama is expected to rally with Whitmer and other Democrats on Friday night at Cass Tech High School in Detroit. The event is expected to begin around 5 p.m.

Pence is expected in Oakland County and Grand Rapids on Monday. Schuette and U.S. Senate candidate John James will join the vice president at the Kent County GOP Lincoln Day Dinner in Grand Rapids, which is set to begin at 5 p.m.

Karen Pence, the vice president’s wife, is slated to campaign Friday with Lena Esptein, the GOP U.S. House nominee in the 11th Congressional District.

Schuette said Wednesday night that he also expects President Donald Trump to campaign in Michigan before Nov. 6.

“Michigan is on Trump’s mind,” Schuette said, noting recent visits by Lara Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who rallied with U.S. Senate candidate John James. “I expect the president to come in, and I look forward to that.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association, is also expected to campaign for Whitmer on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Livonia, Southgate, Brownstown Township and Monroe.