Yesterday Kentucky was informed that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) would no longer be using funds to run television ads on behalf of Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. This news was received at an interesting time, considering just last week was the first time since August that Grimes was polled ahead of Senator Mitch McConnell (though still within the margin of error). The question remains: why? And secondly, what effect will this have on the Grimes campaign?
One answer given by journalists as to why the DSCC will not be funding television ads on behalf of Grimes at the time is due to her answer during the KET debate Monday night where Grimes, once again, refused to say for whom she voted in 2008 and 2012. This news does not resonate well with Kentuckians, who have a deep dislike of President Obama, and perhaps the DSCC found this a good enough reason to pull out of the television wars wave between the candidates.
A second answer given is perhaps the DSCC has come to the conclusion that many others have said all along as a Democratic candidate runs against the five-term incumbent: Kentucky’s electorate is too set in its ways to move on partisanship at the national level. Chris Cilizza of the Washington post writes: “The reality of the Kentucky Senate Race is that the electorate is simply locked in, polarized to the point where persuadable voters are non-existent.” Thus, when your electorate has already made up its mind, as Cilizza has proposed, perhaps the DSCC has decided to move its efforts to races where the money poured into the race will have a greater effect.
A third answer, which ties in to the second, is that perhaps there has been a loss in confidence for Grimes’ campaign by the DSCC. This certainly would not bode well for her campaign if the DSCC came forth with that answer, and would perhaps even have a ripple effect on other large donors. The fact of the matter is that it is easy to get Grimes’ numbers in the upper 40s, but getting her over the 50% mark has proven to be much more of a difficult task in Kentucky. Perhaps the DSCC has seen just how hard this is, and thus has lost confidence in Grimes considering she has not polled over the 50% mark yet in this election, and there are fewer than three weeks to go.
While there are numerous reasons as to why the funding has been cut, the more important question is what effect this will have on Grimes’ campaign? The most obvious answer is that there will be one less group filling our television space with ads. John Sides of FiveThirtyEight writes that it is the volume of television ads which matters most, not the content. That means that it matters more about which candidate can outspend the other in television ads, so that they can fill more air space. So far, the DSCC has spent $2 million in Kentucky. While not all of that $2 million has gone to television ads, it can easily be guessed that a large amount of it probably did considering the cost of television advertisements. Putting this in to perspective, the latest released numbers on television advertising had Grimes spending $3.7 million in advertising, and McConnell at $8.1 million…thus, whatever portion of the $2 million that the DSCC was using to fund television ads on behalf of Grimes will greatly be missed as she continues to lag behind McConnell in advertising dollars.
What does Grimes think of all this? She says that “”[McConnell] can buy the airwaves, but he can’t buy the hearts and minds of Kentuckians.” While this may sound like a sufficient political response to the loss of funding, the reality is, that may just not be true. Historically, as Sides has argued, those challengers who can outspend the incumbent on a campaign by a very wide margin and those who can put up the dollars in advertising are the ones who are victorious. That is not to say that money guarantees a secure win, but it certainly improves a candidate’s chances of winning significantly, especially when there is a wide difference in spending and advertising between the two campaigns. Thus, Grimes may be in more trouble than she leads on if another source of revenue does not come to take the place of the DSCC television ads, and better yet, increase her dollars in advertising significantly to compare to McConnell.