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Koh hits airwaves early in crowded Third District

Haverhill, MA: 4-18-18: Daniel Koh, a candidate for congress in the third congressional district spoke to members of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters at the American Veteran's Post 147, where he picked up the group's endorsement. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Haverhill, MA: 4-18-18: Daniel Koh, a candidate for congress in the third congressional district spoke to members of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters at the American Veteran's Post 147, where he picked up the group's endorsement. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff) (The Boston Globe)

Dan Koh is putting his massive cash advantage to work in the crowded Third Congressional District.

Koh, an Andover native and former chief of staff to Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston, launched a six-figure television ad buy Monday, opting to hit the cable airwaves more than four months before the Sept. 4 primary and at a time when few voters have decided on a candidate.

Koh was sitting on more than $2 million in campaign funds by the end of March, according to his latest finance report. It was nearly three times more than any of the 12 other Democrats vying for the party's nomination.

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Doug Rubin, a campaign adviser, declined to specify how much cash Koh committed to the "significant, six-figure buy" or how long he intends to run it.

But the timing is notable: No other major party candidate in the state has rolled out television ads so far this year, be it in the Third District or any other contested federal or statewide primary.

Koh, 33, is running the ads on cable instead of through the more-expensive Boston television market. Campaign aides say that also allows them to specifically target Lowell, Lawrence, and the rest of the district's 37 cities and towns and on stations like CNN, MSNBC, and USA.

"I think going up on TV early gives people more information on Dan and it's going to help our voter outreach," Rubin said. "When we talk to people at their doors and talk to them on the phone, they're going to know more about Dan."

The 24-second spot emphasizes Koh's Korean and Lebanese roots, his work for Walsh — including a photo cameo of the mayor — and his campaign theme of opposing President Trump. It opens with him in Lawrence, and Koh notes he's running "in his hometown," an apparent effort to underline his connection to the Third District amid criticism of his move back to Andover from Boston for his campaign.

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"I'm ready to stand with you, to stand up to this president and fight for the values that make the American dream possible for all of us," Koh says in the video.

Nearly 60 percent of voters polled in a recent Boston Globe/UMass Lowell poll said they are still undecided about who they would support in the primary.

But spending big early appeared to help Rufus Gifford, a former US ambassador to Denmark, who poured nearly $400,000 into his campaign through the end of March, including on mailings to prospective voters. The spending was second only to Koh, who had already spent $524,519 by that point.

Gifford scored a slim lead in the poll with 11 percent of support, a sign he was building name recognition in a district in which he hadn't lived before moving to Concord as part of his run.

Rubin said the poll results — Koh had 4 percent — didn't push his campaign to go on the air early; the video, he said, was shot weeks ago.

But the strategy, especially in a crowded race, could be a good one, as long as Koh has the money to sustain an expensive media campaign, said Tobe Berkovitz, a political media consultant and Boston University advertising professor.

"One of the problems running early media is, if you burn through all of your money, when it gets to be mid-August and you really need it, you're in trouble," Berkovitz said. "If he has plenty of money — and if he can keep raising money — it's really smart to get out early and avoid all the political clutter."

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Koh's massive cash advantage has made him a target for his competitors, who have knocked him for turning to donors outside the district, and with business interests in Boston, to help bolster his coffers.

The race as a whole has been a magnet for money. Lori Trahan, of Westford, was sitting on $705,000 at the end of March, Gifford had $504,000, and state Senator Barbara L'Italien, of Andover, had $402,000. Beej Das, of Lowell, also had close to $400,000 on hand, though he has also poured $283,744 of his own money into the race.


Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpstout.