So, we are in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, right? The jobless rate is perhaps twice as high as what is generally reported because so many unemployed have simply stopped looking for work and can no longer collect unemployment. Our college graduates are looking for work scooping ice cream or bagging groceries. Record numbers of people are losing their homes to subprime mortgages and the stock market remains a low-grade rollercoaster ride with a down slide for every climb.
And across Massachusetts and the Nation, political spending is predicted to break all records as self-funded and publicly funded candidates are single-handedly reviving media outlets with gobs of cash for political advertising.
Watching the three candidates for Governor of Massachusetts reenact the Battle of Lexington in sequential attacks on one another had to quicken the heart rate of local TV and radio executives who look at the relatively short campaign season like the good people at Four Seas Ice Cream in Centerville, Mass. where the proceeds of one hot summer can pay the bills for the rest of the year.
There is nothing that makes media advertising departments happier than a good political brawl and yesterday’s State House showdown was a clear sign that the gloves are off, so the ad wars can’t be far behind.
In California, billionaire Meg Whitman may be resurrecting the state’s economy by herself as the former eBay exec just hit the $99 million spending mark against former Democratic California Governor Jerry Brown, who has raised a paltry $1 million but is still in a dead heat with Whitman. Closer to home, Connecticut’s Republican nominee for governor, former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon, says she’ll spend $50 million – or whatever it takes – to beat her Democratic rival Richard Blumenthal.
While these two successful Republican women stand out for their seemingly unlimited cash and their willingness to spend it, the national landscape looks much the same: incumbent candidates and newly minted candidates alike are spending like sailors on shore leave.
Part of the inspiration for all this enthusiasm may be rooted back here in Massachusetts with our newly elected US Senator Scott Brown who proved in his January election over Martha Coakley than someone with little name recognition can beat a favored candidate even in Democratic Massachusetts. Brown’s anthem is reverberating around the country as equally written-off candidates woke up one morning and said to themselves: “So can I.”
What has yet to show up across the federal election front is the Niagara Falls gush of campaign cash that was predicted from the US Supreme Court’s January ruling that overturned a longstanding prohibition of institutional and corporate campaign spending. The US Chamber of Commerce, according to a recent Newsweek analysis, will probably double its spending this year from past spending highs, and Democratic unions are also spending at a higher rate than in years past. What we haven’t seen yet is a corporation – like a casino – coming into Massachusetts and targeting Gov. Patrick, for example, for not getting a casino bill through the Legislature.
Absent that corporate flood of campaign cash, however, our local media outlets have plenty to cheer about as one of the most vibrant and competitive campaign years in a long time heads into the run-up to the September primary with hundreds of candidates with plenty of cash on hand. In the gubernatorial race, Republican Charlie Baker had $2.26 million cash on hand at the end of July; Patrick had $1.2 million and Independent candidate Tim Cahill (who spent most of his funds fending off attacks from the left and right) had just $427,356 at the end of July, according to the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance on-line reports.
Like Clarence the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life” who knew someone had gotten their wings when a little bell rang, you can watch TV this fall and every time you see a stream of political ads just say “Ka-Ching” aloud and know that somewhere in Massachusetts a media executive is smiling because in the middle of the worst recession in our lifetime it is still the Land of Milk and Honey where they live.