The trouble is, Walker isn’t being outspent at all.
Walker faces Madison school board member Mary Burke (D) in this year’s election, the third time — counting a 2012 recall — that he’s faced a tough contest for governor. Polls show the race is virtually tied and has been for months, with only minor fluctuations.
Walker started raising questions about the RGA’s spending last week in an interview with our colleague Robert Costa. The governor said he hoped for an additional infusion of advertising dollars from the RGA: “Hopefully that comes through,” Walker said. “We are always looking for more help. Our main help has to be the RGA.”
Walker allies fanned the flames in a subsequent Weekly Standard blog post, “Does Chris Christie Have Scott Walker’s Back?” Republican sources wondered aloud why the RGA was spending more on behalf of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) than in Wisconsin. Was Christie trying to sabotage a potential rival for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination?
On Monday, Walker himself kept the fire burning.
“I’m hopeful that, just as they have in the past, at least some of the national governors associations have come in and helped,” Walker told Politico during a campaign stop. “We can’t coordinate [spending with outside groups] in this state, so we have to see it once it’s up on the air. But they did in 2010 and 2012 and I’m hopeful — I believe they will again this time.”
The RGA has, in fact, spent a boatload of money on Walker’s behalf, including $5.2 million during his 2010 run for office, $8.9 million during his 2012 recall, and $8 million so far this year. In the last few weeks, the RGA has committed an additional $1.3 million to advertisements.
And so far, Republicans are actually outspending, and out-advertising, Democrats on the air. While Walker cites estimates from the Center for Public Integrity, which shows Democrats spending more, figures made available by sources with knowledge of the actual advertising marketplace say Republicans — Walker’s campaign and outside groups included — have spent $20 million on television ads this year, more than the $16.4 million Burke and her allies have spent (CPI uses estimates, while professional advertising buyers have access to more reliable data that shows how much airtime campaigns and outside groups have actually purchased).
Between Oct. 6 and today, Republicans have spent more and purchased more gross ratings points, which measure how many times voters see a given ad, than Democrats. Just this week, the RGA spent more than $400,000 to buy 875 more gross ratings points in the Madison media market, where Democrats had been outspending Republicans.
The other wrinkle in Wisconsin is that the state party is able to raise as much money as donors are willing to spend on their candidates. A September ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Randa allowed political parties to raise unlimited contributions from individual donors; the political parties can then give that money directly to a candidate, like Walker.
Walker has been directing donors to give checks to the Wisconsin Republican Party, and donors are taking advantage of the opportunity: Reports to be made public Monday night will show casino magnate Sheldon Adelson wrote a $650,000 check to the party this month.
While Walker allies have implicitly — or explicitly — accused Christie of playing a game more focused on 2016 than on 2014, others see a different play underway: One in which Walker claims his own measure of credit for winning a tough race at home, in advance of his own 2016 bid.
Or maybe there’s a simpler strategy at work: In Walker’s defense, his public protestations have worked, forcing the RGA to spend more money on his behalf.