The Chron takes a look at one of the more visible aspects of all the money that Mayoral candidates have raised or loaned themselves so far.
Despite taking in a total of more than $7 million, Houston’s mayoral candidates spent relatively little on advertising in the first half of the year, paving the way for an onslaught of messaging in the closing months of the campaign.
In general, less-known candidates – such as City Councilman Steve Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King – poured more money into advertising, including pricey TV spots, to introduce themselves to the public.
Meanwhile, those with strong name identification with voters – such as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – spent less on advertising or targeted their efforts at the voters most likely to support them.
Though it will be months before it is clear whether either strategy worked, the numbers from the mayoral hopefuls’ first round of campaign disclosures provide an early indication of how the race is shaping up.
King allocated more than $191,000 to advertising, nearly as much as the rest of the field combined, while Costello spent about $66,000, more than a third of which went toward online campaigns and $37,000 for video and associated production costs.
I haven’t seen a single TV ad yet. For what it’s worth, I think that unless you’re going to carpet-bomb the airwaves a la Bill White in 2003 or (to a lesser extent) Peter Brown in 2009, early TV ad spending won’t have much effect. The main problem with TV ads is that they’re written on water – if your target audience isn’t watching at the right time, it’s on and gone. On the other hand, I can’t visit a webpage anywhere these days without seeing a Bill King ad, as it was for me with Annise Parker in 2013. I am, to put it mildly, unlikely to base my vote on Internet advertising, but at least he’s out there in a tangible way.
The rest of the story is about the so-far lower-cost advertising efforts by other candidates. You can scan the finance reports yourself if you
are a crazy person like me have the time, but there’s not that much to see there on this front as yet. One thing I’ll say is that these efforts are either to boost name recognition or to remind certain groups that a particular person is running. The target is the 180,000 to 200,000 people that everyone knows will show up to vote in November.
There are many people who vote in Houston in even-numbered years but generally not in these odd-numbered municipal election years. For example, there were 398,337 votes cast in the city of Houston in 2010, including 350,000 in the red light cameras referendum and 340,000 in Renew Houston. There were 590,566 votes in Houston in 2012, with vote totals ranging from 417,000 to 446,000 for various charter amendments and bond referendums. I don’t think traditional city election advertising, whether on TV, radio, the Internet, or in newspapers, is geared to or noticed by these larger groups. These folks, I suspect, need to be informed that there is an election, that they have a stake in it, and that there’s a candidate that might appeal to them. I suspect as well that more direct contact – door knocking, phone calls made by actual people, that sort of thing – is the key to getting their votes.
Every candidate wants to get as many votes as they can from that core 180 to 200 thousand group, since they each represent a vote that would then not be going to their opponents, but at least some of these candidates need to tap into that harder to get larger group as well. Adrian Garcia, who is likely to do very well among a group (Latino voters) who are far more likely to show up in Presidential years than non-Presidential years, is one such candidate. Fortunately for him, he’s already run in two Presidential-year elections, so there’s a lot of people out there who have already voted for him at least once. Sylvester Turner, who is used to running in even-numbered years, is another. When the 30-day and 8-day reports come out, look in them for evidence of field-related expenses. That will tell you what you need to know about this aspect of voter outreach.