Tuesday, October 26, 2010

O’Malley Clobbering Ehrlich on TV

On Saturday, the Sun reported that Martin O’Malley had spent significantly more money than Bob Ehrlich on television ads. A close look at the campaign finance reports illustrates just how big O’Malley’s edge is.

On the reports, TV buys are lumped into the “media” category, which can include radio, print and billboards. But you can tell the TV expenditures because of their sheer size and the identity of the vendors. Ehrlich’s TV vendor is SSG Media Inc. (Stevens and Shriefer Group) of Washington, DC, a partnership of two former admen for George W. Bush. The ads are shot by Red October Productions of Washington DC, another Bush-connected ad firm that outsources projects from SSG. O’Malley’s TV vendor is Media Strategies & Research of Fairfax, a firm headed by a former Hillary Clinton staffer that has done work for the DCCC and MoveOn.org. Ehrlich pays his vendor directly while O’Malley sometimes pays his vendor through his slate account with Anthony Brown.

In addition to undertaking production and consulting work, the vendors pass on payments to television companies. Six- and seven-digit payments from campaigns to vendors are usually mostly pass-throughs that will soon be sent to TV firms and used for commercials. Here’s a history of Ehrlich’s media payments to SSG and O’Malley’s media payments to Media Strategies & Research this year.

This shows the lead O’Malley has built up over Ehrlich on TV. O’Malley began his TV work in May. Ehrlich did not make his first vendor payment until September 1. Through the end of September, O’Malley had outspent Ehrlich on TV vendors by $5.4 million to $782,078 – a 6.9 to 1 ratio. It was only on October 1 that Ehrlich became a serious player on TV. But by that time, the polls had moved from a virtual tie in the summer to O’Malley leads of varying sizes.

All of this lends credibility to Blair Lee’s bitter thesis that O’Malley’s negative ads have damaged Ehrlich. If that turns out to be the case, then it reflects two tactical mistakes by Ehrlich. First, his relatively late entry into the race left him playing catch-up against O’Malley’s massive early campaign warchest. And second, his decision to let O’Malley rule the airwaves for months allowed O’Malley to drive up his negatives.

Ehrlich is on the offensive now, but it may be too late for him to recover.