By Kevin Binversie
I was enjoying a Memorial Day brat fry at my parents’ house in rural Kiel with the television on in the background. The evening news rolled on, interrupted frequently by political ads. When yet another recall ad hit the airwaves, my mother observed good-naturedly, “One week more of this garbage and we get the TV back.”
My father and I looked at each other in that age-old practice of male, non-verbal communication on who would comment first. I broke first: “Um…not exactly.”
Dad chimed in, “No, then we get pummeled with ads for president.”
After drinking some milk, I corrected my father. “No,” I said. “It’s going to be ads for the GOP Senate primary. That’s in August.”
My parents sat in silent horror, chewing quietly as they let this new found reality sink in.
Like it or not, nine weeks from today’s recall election, Wisconsinites will be back at the polls as the regularly scheduled fall election cycle kicks off.
On Aug. 14, the partisan primary takes place. The biggest race on that ballot: the four-way Republican U.S. senate primary between former Gov. Tommy Thompson, former U.S Rep. Mark Neumann, 1st District, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, and Madison businessman Eric Hovde.
In November, we’ll have races for local offices such as county clerk and sheriff, every seat in the state Assembly and half the state Senate, as well as the entire House of Representatives, a third of the Senate and of course, a presidential election — everything that’s supposed to occur on the regularly scheduled reality series “The American Political Cycle” while we here in Wisconsin have been exposed to non-stop, very special episodes of “Wisconsin Recall Madness.”
So, Wisconsin’s exposure to political advertising isn’t over after the recall election. Sadly, it’s only the beginning. According to theWisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign spending in the Badger State, Wisconsinites have been exposed to more than $110 million worth of political advertising from 2011 through May 21, three weeks before today’s election.
Some U.S Senate candidates will bring their ads back to your television screens sooner than you think.
“We are very likely going back up during the evening news,” said Sean Lansing, communications director for the Hovde campaign, killing hope that any recall-imposed moratorium on U.S. Senate campaign advertising would continue past either Tuesday or Wednesday.
“We will be maintaining the steady pace we’ve had from day one of the campaign,” said Lansing. “Our intent is that we will have a similar pace of ads for the two months left in the primary.”
Media reports have estimated Hovde’s ad spending at an about $2 million so far. That’s just one Senate campaign. One can expect to see the Neumann and Thompson campaigns just as heavily invested in advertising after Tuesday. A number of third-party groups also could be active in the primary, like the national Club for Growth, which has openly backed Neumann and been hostile to both Thompson and Hovde.
But Republicans won’t be alone in blanketing the state with ads. After months of unity over the recall, Democrats in the state’s 2nd Congressional District around Madison will battle to replace U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin with advertising of their own. Baldwin is the Democrat running for the U.S. Senate seat.
It is hard to see how it could be avoided in what could be a race based entirely on identity politics.
So, as much as the average Wisconsinite longs for a reprieve, campaign advertising will continue. If anything, the amount of advertising will intensify if Wisconsin comes into play for the presidential election. While “Wheel of Fortune” contestants are buying vowels, politicians will be buying high-priced seconds to try to win your vote.
Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native who has been blogging on the state’s political culture for more than eight years. He has served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous Wisconsin Republican campaigns in various capacities, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at [email protected].