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Primary rivals primed to spend in governor’s race

Advertising pushes by Democrats likely; effort could extend past governor’s race

Charlie Baker’s camp hopes Martha Coakley is forced to overspend in the primary.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff; AP

Gubernatorial candidates who have been husbanding their finances for months are now positioned to launch a costly advertising blitz, running a wave of political spots in a compressed period of time just before the Sept. 9 primary.

The three Democratic campaigns on Monday disclosed, in state documents or to the Globe, that collectively they had more than $1.8 million in their war chests at the end of July.

Attorney General Martha Coakley led the party with more than $712,000, followed by former federal health care administrator Don Berwick, with more than $586,000, and Treasurer Steve Grossman with more than $520,000.

Leading Republican Charlie Baker’s campaign questioned whether Coakley, the Democratic front-runner, would have the resources after a contentious primary to compete in a final match-up that would almost assuredly garner national attention.


“Martha Coakley’s subpar fund-raising is evidence of a fractured Democratic Party and raises questions about how she’ll be able to compete with us on the airwaves in September and October,” said Baker’s campaign manager Jim Conroy.

Coakley’s campaign was weighing a number of media strategies, including one that could see Coakley launch an advertising campaign as early as next week, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

“For us, we believe it’s more about the power of the ideas than the size of the wallet, and that’s what’s going to make Martha Coakley successful in November,” said Coakley strategist Doug Rubin.

Although the candidates are loath to reveal their precise plans, history suggests that campaigns with available funds typically invest in television ads in the days leading up to the primary election.

Coakley and Berwick benefited last month from nearly $309,000 through their respective agreements to participate in the state’s limited public financing system, while Grossman has drawn support from an outside super PAC that has spent more than $474,000 on his behalf.


With Coakley far ahead in the polls but hoping for a strong primary showing to propel her into the general election, all three Democrats have strong incentives to spend heavily in the next five weeks.

Baker, the GOP’s 2010 nominee, sits on more than $1.25 million, supplemented by the roughly $578,000 his running mate, former state representative Karyn Polito, has on hand, according to their campaign. Polito is running for lieutenant governor.

Baker’s primary opponent, Tea Party-affiliated Mark Fisher, reported more than $39,000 on hand as of July 15. His campaign did not respond to requests for updated figures.

Also running are two largely self-funded, unenrolled candidates. Evan Falchuk’s campaign said he had more than $115,000 in his account. Jeffrey S. McCormick had more than $49,000 in his, an aide said.

Coakley’s July haul of $172,303, on top of the public financing, was her most robust of the campaign except for last December, when candidates typically make year-end cash grabs that inflate their numbers, and she banked the public funds last month. At the same time, she spent nearly $234,000, much of it on polling and staff expenses.

For Coakley’s campaign, the calculus revolves around how much to invest in the primary, and how much to steward with a hopeful eye on the general election. Already, her campaign has been forced to spend more energy engaging with Grossman, whose campaign has aired its own spots promoting the treasurer. In addition, the pro-Grossman super PAC ad campaign has knocked Coakley. Grossman on his own spent nearly $550,000 last month, the vast majority of it on advertising.


Although campaign spending by candidates will probably climb sharply in coming weeks, the total is not expected to set a state record. In 2006, for instance, candidates for governor spent an aggregate $42.3 million; in 2010, far less, at $17.6 million. A 2010 Supreme Court ruling allowed outside groups to raise unlimited money and to use it to advertise, opening the market to greater spending.

That, together with a ballot crowded by Democrats seeking four constitutional offices whose current occupants are leaving, could create a cacophony of paid spots as the primary approaches.

Baker’s camp is hoping the Democratic primary tightens, forcing Coakley to spend at a pace that will handicap her should she reach the general election. Meanwhile, Baker holds a significant lead over Fisher and can benefit from the one-two fund-raising punch provided by Polito. Together, they raised about $365,000 last month, a campaign aide said.

Coakley’s camp is not the only one grappling with a complicated set of variables influencing its decisions on when to begin spending heavily. Including down-ballot races, 11 Democrats are vying in statewide primaries this fall.

Campaigns are weighing the advantage of an extended run on television against the conventional wisdom that voters don’t pay much attention during the summer, all while mindful that television advertising rates are likely to increase as the primary approaches and the airwaves clutter. Further, campaigns of all ideological origin have groused that the fund-raising environment, polluted by a seemingly endless spate of elections, is abnormally harsh.


“Everyone’s holding their money right now,” said Chris Keohan, a strategist for Democrat Deb Goldberg’s campaign for state treasurer, which launched a cable and online advertising campaign on Monday.

Keohan said the airwaves in the closing days of the campaign would be swamped with political advertising, creating a crowding-out effect that could dilute candidates’ messages.

“In the final weeks, if you’ve got 12 candidates plus a super PAC, how much penetration are you going to have?” he said.

Goldberg is vying for the Democratic nomination against state Senator Barry Finegold and state Representative Tom Conroy; all three Democrats intend to air TV spots, advisers said. Republican Mike Heffernan is also running.

In what some political insiders consider the most exciting primary, Warren Tolman, former state senator, and Maura Healey, former assistant attorney general, are also hoping their ads in the race for attorney general can sway what polls show to be a tight race.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at Jim.OSullivan@globe.com. witter at @JOSreports.