Campaign spending is a difficult thing to track for North Dakota’s state offices, mostly because campaign finance law regrettably does not require very timely reports nor does it require reporting on spending at all.
In the blistering gubernatorial primary fight between Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Fargo multi-millionaire Doug Burgum the latter will have to make just one report, in May, before primary day, and it will tell us nothing about how much his campaign has spent and how.
Stenehjem will have made twoby primary day; he started his campaign in late 2015 so had to file an end of the year report in January.
But the FCC does require licensed broadcasters to report political advertising buys in its public files. I’ve been tracking the disclosures for the gubernatorial race so far, and as anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes watching a television or listening to the radio knows Burgum is dominating.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Through Thursday, the Burgum campaign has spent over $1.1 million on broadcast advertising, or about 514 percent more than the $179,000 the Stenehjem campaign has spent.[/mks_pullquote]
Through Thursday, the Burgum campaign has spent over $1.1 million on broadcast advertising, or about 514 percent more than the $179,000 the Stenehjem campaign has spent.
And keep in mind, that’s just broadcast advertising. That’s not counting spending on campaign staff and non-broadcast advertising. Such as the direct mail pieces the Burgum campaign has been bombarding the state with.
One SAB reader told me he got a 12-page “book” in the mail from the Burgum campaign about state spending, Stenehjem supporting Obamacare, and apparently a claim that Stenehjem raised his own salary at some point.
I haven’t seen the mailer, but if that last is a claim the Burgum campaign is making it’s a false one. The Legislature sets the salary for statewide office holders.
Anyway, the broadcast numbers give us a pretty good indication of the disparity in resources between Burgum, who has said he is self-funding his campaign, and Stenehjem who is relying on more traditional support. There are probably reasons for both campaigns to be worried.
For Burgum, you have to wonder if such an intense campaign might backfire. Aggressive messaging is one thing, but there’s a point at which it just begins to annoy voters. Burgum had to raise his name identification, and he had to try and pull down Stenehjem’s sky-high approval numbers, and you do that by putting your message in front of voters. But if you begin to annoy voters, your ads and mailers begin to work for your opponent rather than against.
Plus, at some point voters may begin to believe that Burgum – who is probably best known to North Dakotans as being one of the wealthiest citizens of their state – is trying to buy his way into the governor’s seat.
For Stenehjem, though, you have to be worried that Burgum is drowning you out. Granted, television ads and direct mailers aren’t the only piece of a successful campaign, but for the vast majority of voters (even in a primary) who are only casually engaged in the process a television ad or a direct mail piece may be their only introduction to the candidates.
Stenehjem needs to engage in that space, and he’s running out of time to do it. We’re just 45 days from primary day, but perhaps more importantly early voting via absentee ballot (which is open to anyone in North Dakota) begins in just 5 days. Absentee voting for North Dakotans overseas, including military members, started yesterday.
My sense of the race is that it’s still Stenehjem’s to lose. I don’t think Burgum would still be running such negative messaging if he felt like he’d taken the lead.
But if Stenehjem wants to hold on to his lead he’d better do something to raise his presence in the minds of voters.