It will not be easy this fall to avoid political advertising on Maine television.
In the 2nd District congressional race alone, more than 6,300 commercial spots have been reserved by two competing political action committees.
And they are just getting started.
The House Majority PAC, which backs Democrats, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, which pushes Republicans, are throwing down markers at stations from Portland to Presque Isle to lock in times and dates for the ads they plan to run in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.
To get an idea how they plan to fill the airwaves, consider the the back-to-back “Judge Judy” shows that air on weekdays on Portland’s CBS station, WGME, between 4 and 5 p.m.
The GOP group intends to air four ads each day during the two half-hour shows that will hail U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a two-term Republican, or rip into Democratic challenger Jared Golden. The Democratic PAC, for the moment at least, is content to air one during each of the two shows.
Still, what that means is that the two Super PACS together will have six ads focused on the 2nd District race during that hour each day leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.
There might be other political ads in that same hour of television, not yet reserved, once the Poliquin and Golden campaigns, along with other PACs that are slower out of the gate, begin to reserve time.
Poliquin, who won an open seat in 2014, gained re-election two years ago by a wide margin over Democrat Emily Cain in the only district in New England that voted for President Donald Trump.
Democrats chose Golden, a state representative from Lewiston, in a primary this month. The general election also features two independents, Portland lawyer Tiffany Bond and Southwest Harbor educator Will Hoar.
One thing’s for sure: Anybody who watches much television is going to hear quite a bit about both Poliquin and Golden.
The House Majority PAC has spots lined up to run during everything from “The Big Bang Theory” to “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
The Congressional Leadership Fund plans to air spots on shows as varied as “Survivor” and “60 Minutes,” a slot that will cost the group $8,000 for 30 seconds of airtime in Portland, which appears to be the priciest time either group is eyeing.
The cheapest slot appears to be a $20 early morning, 30-second “rotator” position on Presque Isle’s WAGM that won’t put too great a strain on the Democratic PAC that reserved the time.
The 2nd District race has taken on national importance as political prognosticators look to the Maine contest as one of several dozen across the nation whose outcome could either confirm control of the House by Republicans or give Democrats a new majority.
Donors on both sides are forking over hordes of cash to try to influence the outcome.
The advertising spots reserved so far in Maine alone by the two PACs will cost $3.3 million. And that’s just a fraction of what experts anticipate the election will wind up costing.
If history means anything, and it usually does, virtually all of those ads will be meant to politically hurt somebody.
Data gathered by the Wesleyan Media Project in 2016 found that two-thirds of the nearly 22,000 ads that ran by Oct. 30 in 2016 in the 2nd District race were negative, one of the more lopsided figures in the country.
This year is not likely to prove much different.
Michael Byerly, spokesman for the GOP Super PAC, said Tuesday: “Jared Golden’s support for Medicare-for-All and protection of sanctuary cities proves that he is far too liberal for Maine’s 2nd District. In the coming months, CLF will continue to expose Golden for who he truly is: A supporter of Nancy Pelosi’s extreme liberal agenda.”
There are no sanctuary cities or towns in Maine, though.
“While Bruce Poliquin and the GOP focus on partisan issues that don’t impact Mainers daily lives I’ll be focused on the issues that do: healthcare and Bruce’s efforts to take it away from his constituents, higher wages for workers, and protecting Social Security and Medicare,” Golden said.
The exchange is probably indicative of the looming advertising spree.
Independent candidate Bond said the $3.3 million already teed up for advertising “could make a tremendous impact in assisting District 2 in so many ways” better than negative ads on the airwaves.
“Imagine that same amount toward tackling food insecurity, or pumping that into our economy through small businesses,” Bond said. “I encourage the gentlemen in this race to spend their resources building us up instead of tearing each other down.”
Brent Littlefield, a consultant for Poliquin, declined to comment.
Golden’s campaign could not be reached for comment.
Corey Bliss, executive director of the CLF, said it has placed “larger advertising buys earlier than ever” because of an aggressive fundraising effort.
He said in a prepared statement that “by reserving advertising early, investing unprecedented resources in digital, and running the country’s only House-focused national field program,” which includes a new office in Bangor, “CLF is prepared to lead the way in defending the House Republican majority.”
The executive director of the House Majority PAC, Charlie Kelly, said in a prepared statement that this year “will bring a barrage of frantic negative attack ads from GOP outside groups,” but his group “is ensuring we’re prepared early-on to fight back. Momentum is on our side, and with smart, strategic investments, we will help Democrats win across the country.”
The House Majority PAC, established in 2011, is tightly allied with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California. It spent more than $1.8 million in 2016 against Poliquin.
The CLF, also created in 2011, is tied to the House Republican leadership, particularly House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. It spent $1.1 million during Poliquin’s 2016 race to help him with TV advertising, online advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts.
In 2016, Cain, Poliquin and their allies spent more than $7 million on television commercials in a media market where money goes a long way. They aired more than 8,500 ads in the last two weeks of October alone — for an average of 22 every hour across Maine. Over the course of the campaign, they pushed out more than 22,000 ads in Maine.
Advertising money came from three sources: The candidates’ campaign funds, party-affiliated groups and outside political action committees that are not allowed to coordinate their activities with the campaigns.
Reserving airtime for ads does not necessarily mean the groups will wind up using the time, but unless Golden’s campaign falters badly, the commercials are likely to run.
Stations are required to notify the public about political advertising. Their weekly reports are available on the Federal Communications Commission website.
In addition to a barrage of television ads, Mainers can expect to hear plenty more on the radio and see still others on cable and social media.
Not One Penny, for example, just launched a digital ad blasting Poliquin’s stance on health care. Another group, Mainers Against Health Care Cuts, made a $26,000 buy to air other ads.
Ad reservations by station, through June 25
WGME Portland – 1,316 spots
WLBZ Bangor – 1,164 spots
WMTW Poland Springs – 1,036 spots
WCSH Portland – 794 spots
WABI Bangor – 710 spots
WPFO Waterville – 595 spots
WVII Bangor – 343 spots
WFVX Bangor – 202 spots
WAGM Presque Isle – 192 spots
A portion of a buy sheet for the House Majority PAC’s planned commercials on WMTW in October, when the Democratic Super PAC hopes to have advertisements run on shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Shark Tank.”
A screenshot of a recent ad by Mainers Against Health Care Cuts targeting Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the two-term 2nd District congressman.