Rep. Tammy Baldwin has spent millions of dollars over the past month on ads attacking her Republican opponent, former Gov. Tommy Thompson.
If Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) ekes out a win in the Wisconsin Senate race, it might be because she closely copied the successful media strategy of the state’s conservative rock star, Gov. Scott Walker.
Baldwin built a huge media advantage last month, spending millions of dollars on attack ads to knock down former Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), much to the consternation and befuddlement of Badger State Republicans. Now, with both the Senate and presidential races tightening, Thompson finds himself fighting to find enough time and airspace to catch up.
Earlier this year, Walker and Republicans defined the gubernatorial recall election by getting out in front of the media barrage from outside groups. And though the stakes here are different, swaying overwhelmed Wisconsin voters early might prove a deciding factor in a race that could represent a key pickup opportunity for the Senate GOP.
With just three weeks until Election Day, any attempt by Thompson to match Baldwin’s air power could be muddied by the new influx of money from GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and outside groups seeking to swing the state his way.
“If all of these groups rush in to try to get Romney across the finish line, how does that affect Thompson? There are certain groups that are backing [Thompson], but it’s going to clutter the market, dilute their message and make it more expensive,” said one GOP operative unaffiliated with either campaign. “The costs for the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] or Crossroads — or even the Democratic Senate committee for that matter — it’s going to make it more expensive for them to deliver a message in the end.”
The operative pointed to the strategy used by Walker and the Republican Governors Association earlier this year as “a pretty good dry run for how to win the state,” noting that by the end of the race, the election had become so heated and partisan that few undecided voters remained.
“Walker and the RGA had controlled the message early just by sheer force,” the source said.
Of course, the GOP’s get-out-the-vote machine was another key to Walker’s landslide win, and Republican sources say their established ground game will work toward Thompson’s and Romney’s advantage.
Still, between Labor Day and this week, Baldwin’s campaign spent 2.5 times as much as Thompson’s did on media, resulting in a nearly 3-to-1 advantage in ads on the airwaves and a boost for the Madison Democrat in the polls. Since then, the race has narrowed significantly, and Democratic and Republican sources in Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., say the performance of President Barack Obama and Romney at the top of the ticket is still the Senate race’s most important factor.
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