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Steve Grossman to tap own wealth for TV ads

Plans to spend $200,000 during race’s last week

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Grossman is putting up $200,000 of his own money to bolster a final-week television advertising blitz, a sign that he and his campaign strategists are increasingly convinced he can close the gap with his chief rival, Martha Coakley, before the Sept. 9 primary.

Grossman strategists, who just last week were staring at a bleak prospect that it would be hard to catch the front-runner, said the candidate made the decision late Monday, as one adviser put it, to “go all out” in the final days with a healthy ad buy.

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Whether it will be enough to reshape what has been a lopsided race, with Coakley holding consistent double digit leads in the polls, won’t become evident until the ads begin airing.

Campaign advisers say new polling, Grossman’s recent debate performances, and the issue of Coakley’s controversial settlement with a State House lobbyist have breathed new life into the campaign.

“The polling is moving in our direction,’’ said Grossman’s campaign manager, Josh Wolf, confirming the candidate’s plan to use his personal funds. He pointed to a Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll that suggested the gap has closed to 12 percentage points. A Boston Globe poll last week showed a larger, 21-point gap, though that margin has tightened slightly over several weeks. The third candidate, Donald M. Berwick, continues to trail both Coakley and Grossman.

Grossman’s decision marks the first time he has tapped into his own money to pay for ads in the campaign.

In all, the ad buy is expected to total $300,000, with the remainder paid out of his campaign account.

Even if Grossman fails to score an upset, he could still potentially deny Coakley a decisive victory that would help her raise money and energize Democrats in what is expected to be a tough general election fight.

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The content of the ads and even the question of how many will air are still under discussion within the Grossman camp, as is the decision of how tough to go in attacking Coakley. They are expected to start appearing early next week in the Boston and Springfield markets. The size of the ad campaign is aimed at getting the average TV viewer to see the spots at least five times during the period they are on air.

One veteran Democratic strategist, Lou DiNatale, doubts the ad campaign will be sufficient to close the gap.

He said Grossman — who holds a large stake in his family’s marketing company — would have to infuse more of his personal cash to make a difference.

“That is not a big buy, and there is already a competition for air time now,’’ DiNatale said. “Grossman needs more than what $300,000 can buy. He should double down at the very least to have a shot at closing the gap.”

A Grossman strategist said the state treasurer may again assess his prospects later this week and make a decision on whether to dip further into his personal funds for advertising.

Already this month, the Grossman campaign has spent more than $550,000 on television ads.

Coakley, who is airing about $200,000 worth of ads this week, plans to spend $250,000 on advertising in the last week of the campaign, according to a top adviser.

Asked about the forthcoming Grossman ads, her campaign spokeswoman noted that previous ads benefitting Grossman have “had little impact as voters show consistently strong support for Martha in every public poll on the race.”

Still, Grossman’s decision to make a serious effort to catch Coakley in the final stretch has the potential to inject energy into a gubernatorial campaign that has failed to stir much interest, even among political insiders. Berwick, too, has hoped to bolster his numbers with an ad campaign that began last week.

Even if Grossman fails to score an upset, he could still potentially deny Coakley a decisive victory that would help her raise money and energize Democrats in what is expected to be a tough general election fight.

Grossman’s ads will join a flood of political advertising that will start to inundate the airwaves as candidates — and super PACs — try to catch the attention of voters, some of whom are just returning from summer vacations, on the Labor Day weekend in the days before the primary.

Unlike past years, that period between Labor Day and the primary will be truncated. Until this season, primary elections took place in mid-September. This year’s balloting is scheduled just eight days after Labor Day.

A previous Grossman ad chided Coakley for being a “career prosecutor’’ while claiming Grossman, who ran his family’s business before becoming state treasurer, is a “proven jobs creator.” Another ad touted Grossman’s plan for universal prekindergarten, saying it shows he is a “progressive’’ job creator who can foster a strong economy.

In 2002, when he was competing for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Grossman spent a $1 million of his own money before dropping out two months before the primary election. Since then, the value of his family’s company — which started as a prosperous envelope business but has since evolved into a marketing firm — has declined.

So far this year Grossman has spent none of his own money on the race. He has raised just over $1 million for his gubernatorial campaign, and, as of the last reporting period, Aug. 15, had roughly $222,000 left in his account. The new media buy will depend on $100,000 from his campaign funds. The remaining money in that account is expected to be used to keep the campaign operations running through the primary.

Frank Phillips can be reached at frank.phillips@globe.com.
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