Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro has already earmarked $10 million in advertising for the fall home stretch.
Doug Mastriano spent much of the summer ignoring the mainstream press, setting a new, unorthodox precedent for a major gubernatorial campaign.
Now the Republican candidate from Pennsylvania is entering the home stretch of the race with no other basic resource: television ads.
Mastriano has not aired a single commercial since May 16, the day before the primary. And according to ad-tracking companies, to date it has reserved no airtime for the final 60 days of the general election, when televised candidate wars traditionally peak.
Josh Shapiro, his Democratic opponent, allocated nearly $29 million to cable broadcasting and advertising between April and November, a number only expected to increase as the well-endowed attorney general builds his much-needed messaging campaign.
Shapiro is already expected to spend $4.4 million in September, more than $5 million in October and $1.5 million in the last week to Nov. 8, according to AdImpact, an advertising counting firm.
Mastriano’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the gaping advertising disparity.
“There’s no indication he’s raised enough money, especially in southeastern Pennsylvania where it’s expensive to run television,” said Jim Schultz, a Philadelphia attorney who served as a lawyer. general of former GOP Governor Tom Corbett. and endorsed Shapiro. “I think the lack of support for Mastriano is unprecedented and justified.”
Shapiro unveiled three new TV commercials this week. A place points to Mastriano’s opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, arguing that these positions will push Pennsylvania businesses out of the state. Another one mentions Mastriano’s wish to nullify election results he deems fraudulent and contrasts this with Shapiro’s agenda of a gas discount and more job training.
The third Shapiro’s ad, running in the Pittsburgh and Erie markets, features a cancer survivor praising the attorney general for mediating a dispute between health insurance companies.
“With each passing day, voters learn more about how Josh will bring people together to get real results as governor,” Shapiro spokesman Manuel Bonder said.
Even in his successful primary run in the spring, Mastriano spent a pittance on publicity. The state senator and retired military officer handed out just $330,000 for cable TV commercials and $123,000 on radio. Nonetheless, he sailed to a 24-point victory.
But Mastriano’s financial struggles could prove significant in a general election where he needs to reach a wider range of voters outside of his conservative base aligned with former President Donald Trump. Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are primarily covered by six local television markets. Another half-dozen counties consume their television from out-of-state markets as far apart as Buffalo, New York and Washington, D.C.
On Tuesday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a fundraising appeal for Mastriano, signaling Shapiro’s financial advantage down the stretch.
Although there is no indication that the Republican Governors Association plans to help Mastriano as an outside spender on his behalf, analysts say it would be nearly impossible for the Republican to achieve parity with Democratic spending, even if it was the case.
“As far as precedent goes, I can’t think of anything that comes close to this – a major party candidate in a close race with literally $0 in candidate TV spending to show the general even after the party Labor,” Chris said. Sebastian, senior data analyst at Kantar, a consulting firm that also tracks advertising. “To be frank, I can’t really imagine a world in which Mastriano’s campaign is catching up, so to speak.”
Juanita Byler, Mifflin County GOP chairwoman, said Mastriano’s barebones strategy could still prove successful because of his on-the-ground connections with people.
“I think Doug has a very good chance. It’s popular, so it does it a little differently than what we’re used to. He’s really good at listening to people,” Byler said. “You get down to the base, you get down to where the people are… you get respect that way. You don’t get it from TV commercials, you don’t get it from social media.
There is a discrepancy among political operatives over exactly how close the Shapiro-Mastriano race is.
An Emerson College investigation in late August found Shapiro had a slight 3-point advantage, but a Republican operative familiar with private data said he saw evidence the Democrat was ahead by a dozen points.
Mastriano continues to campaign without allowing questions even from local media; the Shapiro campaign called the perpetual escape a “No Comment Express”.
On Friday, Mastriano is due to make a country stopover at a Somerset winery.
And he originally appeared on a flyer as an attendee at an “election integrity” conference to be held Saturday in West Palm Beach, Florida.
But on Thursday, Mastriano’s photo was deleted from website of the American Citizens and Candidates Forum for Election Integrity.