Charlie Baker’s recent surge in public opinion polling follows a six-week stretch of dominance on the airwaves by the Republican candidate for governor and his allies.
An analysis of television advertising shows that Baker and groups supporting him have been airing more broadcast television ads, spending more money on those ads, and, specialists say, reaching more viewers than Democrat Martha Coakley and her allies.
From the day after the primary, Sept. 10, through Sunday, Oct. 19, Baker and his allies aired more than 3,700 individual spots on Massachusetts broadcast television, spending $5 million, according to estimates from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political TV commercials. Over the same period, Coakley and her allies aired about 2,400 individual spots on broadcast TV, spending $3.6 million.
Television spending is not all created equal: Advertising time is generally more expensive when it’s bought closer to Election Day, and more pricey for third-party groups than the candidates themselves. Nor is the number of spots aired a definitive measure. That’s because a single TV ad during a New England Patriots game can reach a lot more people than one aired during a daytime soap opera.
But three specialists independently tracking Massachusetts political TV advertising said Coakley and her allies have been reaching significantly fewer viewers with their TV ads than Baker and his allies since the general election race began. That’s seen as among the most important measures of how effective a commercial campaign will be.
In a very competitive contest, analysts said a discrepancy like the one between pro-Baker and pro-Coakley forces can sway support of a candidate.
“Differences in advertising, when a race is very tight, can really make a difference,” said Elizabeth Wilner, a senior vice president at Kantar Media.
Super PACs, the political action committees that can raise unlimited sums from people, corporations, and unions and use that money to influence elections, have spent big on the gubernatorial race. And they are poised to unleash more than a combined $3.7 million in television advertising targeting the race in its final eight days, according to two of the specialists tracking TV ads.
One recent spot from the main pro-Coakley super PAC, Mass Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee, depicts Baker as a National Rifle Association-allied, education-cutting candidate.
A throaty male narrator says he has “a troubling Republican record,” as foreboding xylophone music plays. That group is funded by big local unions, the Democratic Governors Association, and Women Vote!, an arm of EMILY’s List, a Washington-based group that backs Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, according to filings with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
From the Republican side, a recent spot from the main pro-Baker super PAC, Commonwealth Future Independent Expenditure Political Action Committee pushes back against the Democratic attack.
A female narrator, backed by upbeat music, calls Baker “independent,” someone who will put partisanship aside, and tells viewers he “fully supports the ban on assault weapons.” The group is primarily funded by the Republican Governors Association, filings show.
Those two super PACs have been reaching a similar number of viewers with their ads on broadcast TV in recent weeks, the three specialists tracking Massachusetts TV advertising said.
But, they said, ads paid for by Coakley’s campaign and the state Democratic Party have been reaching fewer viewers than those paid for by Baker’s campaign and the state Republican Party.
Outside observers said a gap in candidate spending like that is meaningful.
“The absence of candidate advertising matters because it is much more flexible than [super PAC] advertising,” said Steve Murphy, a longtime Democratic media strategist. He added that a spot from a candidate, in which he or she can connect more personally with viewers, can have a more profound effect than an ad from an outside group.
A candidate’s commercial, for example, can have the hopeful narrating the spot, speaking about his or her priorities, as Coakley does in a new ad.
The discrepancy between the television presence of Coakley and Baker is probably connected to differences in fund-raising and could hint at which side will be able to make the strongest push to the Nov. 4 election, which will also include three independent candidates.
From Sept. 16 through Oct. 15, Baker and running mate Karyn Polito raised a combined $1.6 million, ending with $1.5 million in the bank, according to state filings.
Over the same period Coakley and running mate Steve Kerrigan raised a combined $830,000 and ended Oct. 15 with $384,000 in the bank, filings show.
Asked about their advantage on television, Baker spokesman Tim Buckley said in a statement that the candidate and his running mate are pleased by the support they have received and that it has given their campaign the resources to share Baker’s message and his “detailed plan to make Massachusetts great,” Buckley said.
Asked about why the Coakley campaign was trailing in the television air wars and how much of a disadvantage it would be, campaign manager Tim Foley said where the candidates stand will make the difference on Nov. 4.
“Martha is on the side of the Massachusetts families who are going to decide this race. That,” Foley concluded, “is what will count on Election Day.”