Bruce Murphy
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Protasiewicz Crushing Kelly in TV Ads

Liberal candidate has run more than three times as many ads as the conservative. Kelly's campaign vows to catch up.

By - Mar 15th, 2023 12:19 pm
Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. Photos courtesy of the campaigns

Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz and former state Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly. Photos courtesy of the campaigns

With the Wisconsin Supreme Court election just three weeks away, liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz is running ahead in internal polls and in campaign and third-party spending over conservative Dan Kelly. The Protasiewicz campaign has outspent the Kelly campaign on television by $9.1 million to nothing, a story by the New York Times reports.

However, Kelly is benefitting greatly from third-party spending on the race. The super PAC Fair Courts America, which is backed by Richard Uihlein, the conservative billionaire and owner of the Wisconsin supply company Uline, has spent $2.3 million in the general election on TV ads and is spending $450,000 on radio advertising. And the state’s biggest business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, has spent $3.4 million on Kelly. That’s a total of more than $6.1 million spent by the two groups, versus just $2.02 million spent by outside groups backing Protasiewicz in the general election.

When added together that shows the money spent to back Protasiewicz totals $11.1 million versus $6.1 million for Kelly.

But the edge for Protasiewicz is actually much greater than that, because a candidate’s campaign pays far less for TV ads than third-party groups, which are typically charged three times more. This has given Protasiewicz a huge advantage, with data from AdImpact showing she has run more than three times as many TV ads as Kelly. Most of those are attack ads.

The Times story noted that internal polling by operatives for both sides of the race show Protasiewicz with a lead in the mid-to-high single digits.

Kelly’s spokesperson Ben Voelkel suggested the Protasiewicz campaign was wasting all that money on a low-turnout spring election, but at the same time predicted the Kelly campaign and its allies would soon catch up in overall TV spending.

Precisely how much impact TV ads can have in an age of often ad-free streaming has been debated. The research is a tad murky on this, though an analysis of more than 2,250 elections from 2000 through 2016 found that ads do matter. “The effects are not large in presidential races, although they may make a difference in a swing state in a tight year. But they are substantial in down-ballot races for the House and the Senate, and even more so in statewide races,” the report found.

But is that analysis, through 2016, by now out of date? Perhaps, but there is no campaign consultant who wants to trail in TV ads.

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