The last of the $1.7 million that Republican Linda McMahon is spending on WCBS in New York over the final eight weeks of her U.S. Senate campaign is for a spot on the “Late Show with David Letterman.”
By the time Letterman signs off at 12:35 a.m. on Nov. 6, a little less than six hours before the polls open in Connecticut, McMahon’s commercials will have been seen by millions in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
One of the most visible measures of her financial advantage over Democrat Chris Murphy is on New York television, where McMahon is spending almost $5 million to be seen every day — and Murphy has yet to buy an ad.
Last Sunday, one of her 30-second spots aired during the Jets game at a cost of $65,000, which comes to $2,166 a second. She’s on newscasts, Wheel of Fortune, Dr. Phil, college football and primetime dramas like “Blue Bloods” and “NCIS.”
It is a hugely expensive, inefficient way to reach fewer than 400,000 voters in lower Fairfield County, the slice of Connecticut tied to New York by jobs, mass transit and the network affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.
But political consultants say broadcast television in New York, even as broadcast stations lose audience to cable, still is a smart buy for a Connecticut politician who has the money.
And, most assuredly, McMahon has the money.
As of the Aug. 14 primary, she had spent $65 million of her own money on two nearly seamless campaigns: $50 million in 2010 and $15 million in 2012. Her lavish personal spending is part of her ad campaign.
“I can’t be bought, and I will work only for you,” McMahon says in a new ad.
A review of station records, which have been available since August on the FCC’s web site, shows that McMahon’s post-primary spending has been about $1 million each on WABC, WNBC and Fox, with WCBS getting a little more.
That is more money than some statewide candidates spend on Connecticut television, and it is more money than Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is running for re-election this year, has spent reserving time on the network affiliates in her home state.
“It’s a luxury every campaign would love to have,” said George Gallo, a former campaign consultant who is chief of staff to the House Republicans in Hartford. “It’s not surprising, given the resources of that campaign. They are firing every bullet.”
Gallo said New York newscasts still remain one of the most reliable ways to reach likely voters in the metro suburbs, even though the majority of the New York advertising dollar buys ads seen by people outside Connecticut.
“It’s an imprecise medium, television,” Gallo said.
McMahon also is using highly targeted outreach: mailings, door-to-door canvassing and phone calls directed at the state’s 818,545 unaffiliated voters, who outnumber the 724,110 Democrats and 413,470 Republicans.
Logan Dancey, an assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University who studies Congressional races, said New York television not only reaches Fairfield County voters, it may do a better job of reaching undecided voters.
“You might have more persuadable voters tuning in than you would to some of the more partisan sources on cable,” Dancey said. “The network newscasts and network channels might have a more diverse pool of people politically.”
Dancey said McMahon might also believe that her economic message of cutting taxes for businesses and the wealthy, as well as the middle class, might play especially well in the well-to-do suburbs of New York.
Murphy is hardly invisible on Fairfield County television screens — so long as they are connected to cable. He is advertising on cable system, but his campaign declined to comment on its media strategy. The McMahon campaign also says it does not discuss strategy.
“You can win without doing New York television,” said Roy Occhiogrosso, the senior adviser to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the Democrat narrowly elected in 2010.
Malloy, who kept to a publicly financed campaign budget of $8.5 million, defeated two self-funded Greenwich millionaires in the Democratic primary and general election, Ned Lamont and Tom Foley
They both advertised on New York television, and Malloy did not, Occhiogrosso said.