Schuette scales back TV ad spending in final week of campaign

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Bill Schuette answers questions from the media after the Michigan Gubernatorial debate between candidates Bill Schuette and Gretchen Whitmer at WDIV studios in Detroit, Michigan on October 24, 2018.

Lansing — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette is cancelling planned advertising spending around the state in the run-up to Tuesday's general election, a move that could limit his ability to close a polling gap with Democrat Gretchen Whitmer.

While outside groups continue to spend on Schuette's behalf, his scaled-back TV plan comes less than nine days after the Midland Republican loaned $325,000 to his own campaign, which reported $457,851 in debt as of July 21.

Schuette is still expected to spend $441,000 in TV ads in the Detroit market during the final week before the election, but his campaigned has cancelled $445,000 in spending booked in other media markets, according to tracking data.

Ads planned for the Grand Rapids, Flint, Lansing, Traverse City and Marquette markets will no longer air.

Whitmer campaign spokesman Zack Pohl said the cancellations show that “even Bill Schuette is joining Michigan voters in abandoning the Schuette campaign.”

But the attorney general will still have a significant presence on the airwaves in most parts of the state. The Michigan Republican Party last week made a $1.25 million ad buy to benefit Schuette in concert with the Republican Governors Association.

The party is on the air supporting Schuette and will have ads running through Election Day, according to spokeswoman Sarah Anderson.

Schuette spokesman Stu Sandler said the campaign would not comment on ad strategy, “but this race is getting closer. Gretchen Whitmer knows it. Michigan has a history of close races.”

Whitmer led Schuette by 12 percentage points in an Oct. 25-27 poll of 600 likely voters conducted for The Detroit News and WDIV. The survey showed little change in the race over the past month despite two debates and a cacophony of television attack ads.

Mid-term elections are typically difficult for the party that holds the White House, and Michigan Republicans are bracing for election losses this cycle. A competitive governor’s race could help the party avoid larger losses down ticket.

“This is a tough year for Republicans,” said GOP consultant Tom Shields of the Marketing Resource Group, a firm that released similar poll results last week. “They’re going to have to hope they hold control on chambers in the Legislature or federal branches and then regroup for 2020.”

Polls point to a strong turnout among Democrats, especially female voters, who are typically less likely to cast ballots in mid-term elections, Shields said.

“They’re going out to send a message.”

Whitmer raised more money and outspent Schuette during the latest campaign finance period, pulling in $4 million in contributions between Aug. 28 and Oct. 21 compared with his $2.4 million. As of last week, advertising data indicated the East Lansing Democrat and allies were poised to outspend pro-Schuette forces during the last week of the campaign, even with the $1.25 million assist from the Michigan GOP.

Schuette said Monday that polls have been proven wrong before in Michigan.

 "I don’t care whether your name is John Engler, or Donald Trump or Bill Schuette. We close at the end, and I’m the comeback kid," he said.

Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for Schuette, U.S. Senate candidate John James and other Michigan Republicans on Monday, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway is expected to rally with GOP hopefuls at a get-out-the vote event on Thursday night in Sterling Heights. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to rally with Whitmer, Sen. Debbie Stabenow and other Michigan Democrats earlier Thursday in Lansing. Whitmer launched a statewide bus tour on Tuesday and is expected at a Detroit Economic Club luncheon on Wednesday that Schuette will also attend.