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It May Be A Political ‘Off-Year,’ But In Some States Millions Are Being Spent On Ads.

Just because it is an off-year for federal political races, it does not mean there is no political ad dollars to be had. Figures from Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group show in some states political races are already generating millions of dollars of ad spending.

In Virginia, where a new governor will be elected this November, roughly $16.5 million has already been spent. And In New Jersey, which will also pick its governor this fall, ad spending has reached nearly $8 million. Kantar-CMAG VP/General Manager Steve Passwaiter says those figures are impressive considering in both states the heat of the campaign has yet to start. Four years ago, the Virginia governor’s race had $50 million in total spending, which the candidates spent just under $10 million New Jersey.

“The real big spender this year thus far has been the New York City mayor’s race,” says Passwaiter. Kantar-CMAG calculates this month’s primary election ad spending totaled nearly $60 million – or roughly the combination of what has been spent across Virginia and New Jersey. The tally benefited from an influx of money from outside groups. And while additional spending is likely in that race as Election Day approaches, because of the city’s political makeup the Democratic primary winner typically sails to an easy victory in the fall.

“This is the best mayoral cycle in at least three cycles – we drove a lot of revenue and they looked at unique ways to reach the African American Latinx audience,” said Ron DeCastro, General Manager of New York’s hip-hop “Hot 97” WQHT and adult R&B WBLS (107.5). “They used all our offerings – including digital and events.” He said most of the candidates that finished at or near the top of the vote – New York has a new ranked-choice voting system – made “significant commitments” to reaching their Black and Latinx audience.

California Recall TBD

On the West Coast, there remains a still developing race in California where the recall election against sitting Governor Gavin Newsom could also jumpstart the political category in that state. The race is likely to attract a large number of candidates, similar to the last recall election in 2003, says Passwaiter, and that could mean more ad spending for radio to tap into.

Kantar-CMAG says more than $10 million has already been spent on the California recall election effort. In a hint of what is to come, the last time the state had a recall election in 2003, ad spending totaled $50 million.

Filling House Vacancies

Because of the spotty nature of off-year elections, Kantar-CMAG has not issued a forecast for total spending for 2021. Instead, Passwaiter says they are already working on their forecast for 2022, when midterm cycle ad spending is expected to be robust as Republicans look to regain control of the House and Senate.

Even as every House member’s term is up next year, a few open seats will be filled in special elections this year. That has ad dollars flowing to radio and other media.

Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) vacated her seat to take a job in the Biden administration and now there’s a competitive race in Ohio. AdImpact says $1.4 million has been spent so far on radio, television and digital advertising in the special election. Helping boost spending is a wide open Democratic field that features 13 candidates. The district sits between Cleveland and Akron. It is a deep blue district and so the winner of the Aug. 3 primary is likely the winner of the seat.

Ohio has another primary race generating spending for radio. AdImpact says the candidates running to succeed former Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) have spent $479,000 on radio, television and digital ads so far. This time the primary battle is among Republicans as 11 candidates are looking for a win in the Columbus-area district that leans right. Politico says the biggest ad spender in the race has been Stivers himself, who is spending what is left in his political war chest to support State Rep. Jeff LaRue to succeed him.

Meanwhile in Texas, AdImpact estimates $996,000 has been spent in the special election to replace the late Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX). The two-term congressman died in February. The race to fill his seat will be decided in a Republican runoff election in July.

Some spending underway now is also looking ahead toward Election Day 2022. The National Republican Congressional Committee is running commercials in five Northeastern states where it thinks it can flip congressional seats from blue to red.

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