On September 25, Christine O’Donnell Tweeted that her campaign had raised nearly $2.5 million since the primary, an astounding total.
We are a month away from Election Day, and so far, the O’Donnell campaign has yet to air a television ad. I am informed by those close to the campaign that the ads should be going up “soon,” with the precise launch date still being determined by those producing the ads.
Campaign strategists will argue whether it’s wiser to start airing ads early or to wait until the final weeks or days, when voters are presumably paying the most attention. This cycle has seen two Republican candidates take each approach, with each one enjoying the fruits of some success from it.
Earlier this cycle, Florida Republican Marco Rubio’s campaign stopped television advertising once Gov. Charlie Crist departed the GOP primary. They ran no ads from May 1 to August 25; during that time, Charlie Crist enjoyed a poll surge, probably driven by his prominence in preparing the state’s response to the Gulf oil spill. But Rubio didn’t do too badly, and once Rubio ads went up on the air, his poll numbers popped up and his lead has grown steadily since then.
In Nevada, Harry Reid greeted Sharron Angle’s primary victory with an avalanche of negative ads. Angle had led hypothetical match-ups, but as the general election began, Reid began to lead and Angle’s favorable numbers dropped. At one point the Mason-Dixon poll put Reid up by 7 percentage points. Angle went up on the air, pouring enormous amounts of money — about $575,000 in a week! — into television advertising, going toe-to-toe with the big-spending Reid. It was a strategic gamble that appears to be paying off: If Angle needs more money between now and Election Day, she can always appeal to an energized base that yearns for a defeated Reid. But if she had held her cash in reserve and waited while Reid’s lead grew, some Republicans might have written her off as too long a shot, too ill-defined by Reid’s early advertising wave to make a comeback. Today, the race remains neck-and-neck, and Angle has a good chance of coming out on top against the unpopular incumbent.
O’Donnell’s circumstances seem a bit closer to Angle’s; the Chris Coons campaign and the DSCC have each aired two ads since the primary, and obviously O’Donnell has endured being the punchline of every late-night comedian and Saturday Night Live. This race may turn on whether or not her image in Delaware voters’ minds has been irrevocably set, or whether she can show that there’s much more to her than her old appearances on MTV and Bill Maher’s show.
If Chris Coons can make the race about electing a witch to the Senate, he will win. If Christine O’Donnell can make the race about whether Delaware is happy with what it’s getting from Washington, she will win.