In the wake of a couple of polls showing former City Councilman Jim Kenney leading in Philadelphia’s Democratic mayoral primary, the super PAC backing state Sen. Tony Williams has boosted its spending on television ads to nearly $800,000 a week.
American Cities, the committee funded by three wealthy pro-school choice executives, had been spending about $500,000 a week on its TV buys, according to two sources familiar with political ad placements on local stations.
American Cities’ total TV ad spending on the mayor’s race now exceeds $3.2 million. Those ad buys cover the period through next Monday.
The two polls showing Kenney a few points ahead in the race were both commissioned by supporters of Kenney. Two union-backed super PACs supporting Kenney — Forward Philadelphia and Building a Better PA — have put a combined $1.2 million into ads on his behalf.
Hard to be nice
If we can believe the Kenney-backed polls, I have to say it’s a little surprising that Williams’ huge advantage in ad penetration doesn’t seem to have given him a commanding lead in the race.
One thing that occurred to me is that it’s hard for an independent expenditure group to do a moving and positive ad for a candidate because it can’t coordinate activities with the candidate.
So it can’t get the candidate into a studio to do a half dozen takes of a script. And it can’t collect hours of beautifully staged video of the candidate touring a factory, talking to community leaders, shaking hands with firefighters or stroking the heads of schoolchildren.
Look at the last couple of American Cities’ ads for Williams (the latest is above), and you see right away what’s missing: the candidate speaking. The ads offer testimonials, but they somehow don’t connect the same way.
I called Chris Mottola, a veteran Republican ad man (most of the Democrats I know are working for somebody in the race), and he confirmed my suspicion.
“Traditionally, independent expenditure positive ads are the toughest to do,” he said, “because you always have to to make do without access to the candidate.”
“Also, I think voters instinctively know that this is a third party talking about a candidate, and they are suspicious and resistant to the information,” Mottola said.
If the super PAC is doing a negative ad, of course, the lack of gauzy footage of the candidate is no problem. Grainy stills of the opponent looking stupid or sinister will do quite nicely.
Will the super PACs or the candidate’s campaigns start running negative ads? It’s hard to imagine a mayor’s race without them, but going negative in a multi-candidate race can be a tricky proposition: candidate A attacking candidate B could end up benefiting candidate C or D.
For a consideration of some of the possibilities in this race, you can check this piece by our friend and former WHYY colleague Holly Otterbein, now at PhillyMag.
Who else is on the air?
I mentioned that the total spending by the two super PACs supporting Kenney total more than $1.2 million so far in the race.
As our own Katie Colaneri reported yesterday, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham is now running ads. She’s reserved three weeks worth of advertising at around $175,000 for each of the first two weeks and well over $200,000 the third week.
Kenney’s campaign is on television with a one-week ad buy in the $300,000 range.
Williams was advertising earlier, but hasn’t been on the air since mid-April.