In the Virginia Governor's Race, a Drizzle of Ads Portends a Deluge

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009

It has started raining in Virginia.

With consultants and advisers predicting that as much as $60 million may be spent on this year's gubernatorial election, a figure that would smash all spending records in Virginia campaigns, the past few weeks have provided a sense of calm before the storm for the state's TV viewers.

So far, the clouds have merely been gathering, as the candidates have debated, sent mailers and placed radio ads in select markets.

But nothing can force a political campaign into public view like back-to-back ads during the "Today" show. And, in the past week or so, the skies have started to open.

Two of the three Democrats competing in that party's June 9 primary have stepped up their visibility.

Terry McAuliffe, who was first on the air in Richmond and Hampton Roads, added TV spots last week in Roanoke, promising to bring "big ideas and a fresh approach" to Richmond.

Then came state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), who added 30-second spots in Roanoke, Richmond, Hampton Roads and Bristol. One of the ads focuses on education. Another portrays Deeds as the candidate most prepared for the governor's mansion.

"This is a fast-moving storm that's here to stay," said Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks TV advertising.

Tracey said McAuliffe has spent $400,000 on TV advertising. The "big ideas" ad aired 50 times in it first three days, a modest foray but significant because the well-funded McAuliffe briefly had the airwaves to himself.

Tracey said it makes sense for McAuliffe to focus on cheaper downstate markets rather than the hugely expensive Northern Virginia. Many voters in the D.C. suburbs are more tuned in to national politics and are familiar with McAuliffe from his days as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

It'll be a few days before it's possible to get information from TV stations on the frequency of Deeds's ads, but his campaign said he is spending $134,000 on a seven-day squall.

Predicting who shows up at the polls in typically low-turnout Virginia primaries is so tricky that it makes good polling tough. But two polls out this week show McAuliffe in front of Deeds and former state delegate Brian Moran.

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