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When will the TV ads reappear?

Monday, Apr 30, 2018

* My Sun-Times column

Believe it or not, one of the questions I’m asked the most these days is: “When will Gov. Rauner and J.B. Pritzker start airing their general election TV ads?”

A few weeks ago, Chicago pundit Dick Simpson predicted to Crain’s Chicago Business that the new campaign TV ads would start “any minute.” He went on to say that both candidates will be worried about the other candidate getting out front.

Four years ago, I mistakenly believed candidate Bruce Rauner would take a page from Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 2014 re-election playbook and immediately bury Gov. Pat Quinn under a mountain of negative advertising. Instead, Rauner waited until July 11 to air his first general election TV ad.

So, what’s it gonna be this year?

From what I can gather, I don’t think Pritzker wants the blame for being the first to go back up on TV. Pritzker spent tens of millions of dollars in television ads since May 2 of last year and TV-viewing voters aren’t eager for more. By waiting for Rauner to pull the trigger, Pritzker can say he had no choice but to go back on the air to counter whatever Rauner does.

Besides, private polling reportedly shows Pritzker with a substantial double-digit lead over Rauner in what’s still looking like a favorable year for Democrats, so there’s no immediate need for Pritzker to start running ads.

After checking around, I don’t think the governor’s campaign is all that eager to resume spending big bucks on TV right away, either.

What I didn’t consider in 2014 was that at least part of the reason Rauner went dark was to help him fade away from voters’ consciousness after the primary, which allowed him to introduce a new messaging campaign for the general election.

Most TV ads quickly lose their impact not long after they’re pulled off the air. If you go up with a message, you gotta stay up with that message or most of your spending was for naught. So, if you want to introduce a revamped, general election message, you sometimes need to give that earlier message time to expire. It’s kind of like a reboot.

After Rauner’s bitter, unexpectedly close GOP primary against state Rep. Jeanne Ives, it’s probably best to get out of the public’s face for a while and allow people time to forget and maybe forgive. One of the best things about having such an early primary, after all, is it gives the winners plenty of time to try to heal the wounds before November.

Plus, what’s the rush? Running ads in April of 2006 allowed Gov. Blagojevich to quickly push Judy Baar Topinka’s poll numbers down, which helped dry up her fundraising. The first post-primary poll had Topinka leading the incumbent, but that changed in a hurry after the Blagojevich ad attack, and Topinka couldn’t immediately fight back because she had drained her account to win the Republican primary.

The only way to dry up J.B. Pritzker’s money is to completely crash the world economy and send us all back to the Stone Age. TV ads can do a lot, but they can’t do that. Rauner knows that if he airs ads, Pritzker can easily afford to immediately respond.

And while Rauner has shown a willingness to spend his personal fortune to win elections, people who’ve been close to him over the years say he does become reluctant and grumpy when it comes time to actually write the checks.

Besides, TV watchers truly do need a break from the primary’s bottomless pit of negative TV ads (and you can bet that most of the TV ads we’ll eventually see ain’t gonna be about flowers and ponies).

But not everyone is getting a rest. Both campaigns are currently advertising online, through social media, Google searches, etc.

The effectiveness of online advertising is growing by the day because it can be so finely targeted and because so many people are spending so much time on their computers and smart phones. TV is still the best way to reach voters, but it’s slowly starting to lose its punch as viewership declines and splinters into a million different directions (witness the amount of money Pritzker and Rauner had to spend to win). And they can advertise online without much notice by the news media.

By the way, this comes with the usual caveat that the greatest beauty of politics is it can always change in a big hurry. I’m hearing the governor may be getting pressured by someone close to him to start spending money soon, so we’ll see.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

16 Comments
  1. - ZC - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 8:53 am:

    All of this, plus I think the evidence is pretty clear that TV ads matter more in primaries where voters can’t fall back simply on knee-jerk partisan impulses.

    The money’s gonna matter a lot less in the fall, when the “D” and the “R” come onto the ballot.


  2. - Anon221 - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 9:04 am:

    “Rauner … does become reluctant and grumpy when it comes time to actually write the checks.”

    Seems to be a pattern in his governorship style as well for certain social and educational programs.


  3. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 9:05 am:

    –And while Rauner has shown a willingness to spend his personal fortune to win elections, people who’ve been close to him over the years say he does become reluctant and grumpy when it comes time to actually write the checks.–

    Then get ready for Gov. Grumpy. Whole new ballgame for Rauner when he can’t swamp the field with his cash.

    Will Griff kick in?

    I doubt Uiehlein will. That would be an interesting footnote, if the single-largest GOP moneybags in the country won’t give a dime to a GOP incumbent governor in his home state.


  4. - A guy - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 9:05 am:

    ^^^
    If the independents are going to make the difference, ads during the general will have a greater impact than primary ads. I think they’re just keeping their powder dry until the first shot. From there on out, I think we will all be subjected to wall to wall ads until Election Day. We’ll see who shoots first. After that, I doubt it will matter who shot first. No one will remember. They’ll just want it to stop.


  5. - Jocko - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 9:10 am:

    I know this is slightly OT but can we please (PLEASE) have some sort of predetermined campaign season (like two months in the UK, eleven weeks in Canada)? The endless posturing and personality creation/maintenance is numbing.


  6. - A Jack - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 9:39 am:

    Maybe JB could do a positive, just slightly political ad, celebrating Illinois’ bicentennial and great accomplishments.

    Something like join JB in celebrating Illinois’ bicentennial and a few highlights like Lincoln, Chicago’s industry, central Illinois’ farms and southern Illinois’ coal fields. A good positive message to keep his name out there.


  7. - Amalia - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 9:58 am:

    it’s not quite like calling up a monster, but kinda.


  8. - Arsenal - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 10:00 am:

    If JB’s sitting on a double-digit lead, especially after Rauner already threw a haymaker at him, then yeah, he can afford to be the respondent. But I wonder if it would suit him well to go up with a couple positive bio spots to get a foundation of goodwill going first.


  9. - DarkHorse - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 10:09 am:

    One of implications of his Grumpiness: he’s less likely to spend freely to elect State Reps, Senators and Constitutional Office candidates. They may be on their own.


  10. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 10:18 am:

    The “Rauner failed” message should be very powerful because it’s so true. I’d think the Pritzker campaign would start with this early, to set the narrative and define Rauner. Rauner’s failure is oppo platinum, especially when he said he’d do his first term all over again.


  11. - VanillaMan - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 10:22 am:

    I see more political ads here, than I do on television because I don’t watch network or cable anymore.

    Whoever interferes with my binge watching will receive my wrath. The very idea that a candidate would show up between episodes of “Freaks and Geeks”, “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, or any other comfy binge watching I’m enjoying exposes themselves as being too cute by half, and stalking me using data they shouldn’t have.

    TV watching is no longer about broadcasting, but about data manipulation of my personal viewing habits, I don’t want to be shared by political parasites. So whoever shows up on my TV exposes themselves as dirty data collectors.

    Don’t do it guys.


  12. - The Way I See It - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 10:49 am:

    How much does McCann’s candidacy affect the timing to go on air? Just how aggressively Rauner can move to center has got to be measured,against leakage on the right.


  13. - BlueDogDem - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 11:09 am:

    Gov. Grumpy knows he is doomed. Wasting $50 million is not what you call a good bet. Gov. Grumpy knows OldBlue is spot on with a 12% tail kicking.


  14. - Cheryl44 - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 11:28 am:

    Who watches tv anymore?


  15. - The Dude Abides - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 11:41 am:

    Will Griffin be willing to kick in $20-$3o million if he feels that it likely will be for a failed venture? It will be interesting to see if the GOP members of the Legislature stay in line if the Rauner money begins to dry up.


  16. - JoanP - Monday, Apr 30, 18 @ 2:43 pm:

    I don’t know about TV ads for gubernatorial candidates, but Willie Wilson already as signs on the median strip of S. Lake Park Avenue. The mayoral election is eleven months away. It’s going to be a very long eleven months, I think.


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