Ohio’s expected $28.7M governor race to be one of most expensive in U.S.

Updated Sept 06, 2018
Mike DeWine and Richard Cordray

Ohio, get ready for the deluge.

A research and consulting firm that tracks political advertising predicts that political spending in the state will hit $240.39 million this cycle, with the bulk of that going into the hotly contested race for governor.

Borrell Associates, based in Williamsburg, Va., predicts that the cost of the race between Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine will hit $28.7 million before it’s over. Only Florida, Maryland and California are expected to have costlier gubernatorial races, according to their analysis, released Wednesday.

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Their findings, published in a report titled “Bracing for Political Impact,” are consistent with predictions made by Bob Clegg, president of Midwest Communications, based in Powell. Clegg said based on current buys, the governor’s race will bring in around $7 million in Columbus and closer to $10 million in Cleveland. “I’m guessing there will be around $25 million in the state in just the governor’s race alone,” he said.

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It’s not an exact science. Clegg said DeWine’s campaign is reserving campaign ads on a week–to–week basis, beginning Aug. 22, with $102,000 reserved for this week. The Republican Governors Association will begin its Columbus buy on Sept. 26 and run it through Nov. 5. The RGA has reserved $2.5 million worth of ads during that period.

And a third organization, the RGA–affiliated Right Direction PAC, is also airing ads this week and the weeks of Sept. 12 and Sept. 19, he said. They are also reserving air time on a week to week basis. In all, they’ve reserved roughly $559,000 in the Columbus market during that period, he said.

Cordray, meanwhile, has reserved some $759,000 in ads in the Columbus area for the period between Sept. 11 through Nov. 5, Clegg said. And a PAC affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association — A Stronger Ohio — has reserved nearly $2 million in Columbus through Nov. 5, he said. The sum, he said, is competitive, but in the end it appears DeWine will outspend Cordray in air time before Election Day.

Compared to that, the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Jim Renacci will be sleepy, he predicts. He said that’s because so many other Senate races across the country are considered more competitive. “It’s always a chess game,” Clegg said. “And Ohio’s not in that chess game right now.” He predicts there will ultimately be less money spent in that race than there was the last time Brown, a Democrat, ran.

Borrell Associates, meanwhile, predicts about $11 million will be spent on the Senate race. It’ll be a top 10 race, according to their report, but Ohio, at eighth place, will see far less money invested in it than Senate races in Florida, California, New Jersey and Missouri, for example.

Clegg said he also sees more money being poured into other statewide and legislative races than during previous midterms, in large part because Democrats are raising more money this year.

“You’re going to have Democrats and Republicans on TV for attorney general, auditor, treasurer, and Secretary of State, where traditionally it’s been pretty much the Republican alone, and even they wouldn’t spend as much as they could,” he said. The veteran media buyer said he expects air time “will be a lot tighter than it was in 2014 and in some respects even tighter than it was in 2016,” when Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump opted more for news media attention than for advertising attention.

Borrell predicts Ohio’s state legislative campaign spending will hit $78.77 million this cycle.”We’re seeing some state legislative races that are running over a million dollars,” said Kip Cassino, executive vice president of Borrell and the author of the report. “That’s unheard of.”

He said much of the increase can be attributed to digital advertising, with this election a “test” for how much online political advertising the general public is willing to tolerate.

In all, U.S. House and Senate races in Ohio are expected to draw $29.6 million in spending, according to the Borrell report; state races, including gubernatorial, legislative and other state offices are expected to draw $118.38 million and local races are expected to draw $31.75 million. Other political spending — including PAC spending and special interest spending — is expected to top $60.65 million this cycle in the state.

Ohio’s trends may mirror national ones: Borrell predicts that political advertising for 2018 will total $8.9 billion this cycle, with the bulk of it — $3.5 billion, or 39 percent — going to broadcast TV. That $8.9 billion total is eight percent more than what was spent during the 2014 midterms.

An additional $1.8 billion will go to digital media and cable will air $1.1 billion worth of advertising, according to the report.

The report found that less than one–third of that money has already been spent — meaning if you’re not sick of political advertising yet, get ready to be.