Missouri Senate race spending slows after heated primary contests

PACs remain on the sidelines in contest as Eric Schmitt holds double-digit lead in polls over Trudy Busch Valentine

By: - October 20, 2022 12:58 pm

Trudy Bush Valentine, left, and Eric Schmitt (campaign photos).

Outside groups poured money into Missouri in the weeks leading up to the Aug. 2 U.S. Senate primary, with political action committees spending nearly $20 million on television ads boosting or tearing down candidates. 

Since then, they’ve all gone silent. 

Fall ad spending in the Senate showdown between Republican Eric Schmitt and Democratic nominee Trudy Busch Valentine totals $3.7 million so far — with Valentine outspending Schmitt nearly two to one. The only spending, aside from the candidates’ campaigns, is $153,540 by a Missouri Republican State Committee fund supporting Schmitt.

The Independent, working with the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is tracking ad spending in several important elections this year using reports filed by broadcasters with the Federal Communications Commission. 

The Independent is monitoring all full-power television stations and selected radio stations.

Along with the Senate race, The Independent is watching spending on Amendment 3, which would legalize recreational marijuana sales and use, and competitive legislative races.

The data shows:

  • Valentine has almost matched her pre-primary broadcast spending of $2.7 million with $2.3 million spent statewide on television ads.
  • Schmitt has spent $1.3 million, almost four times as much as his campaign spent directly on broadcast ads in the primary but only a fraction of the $7.6 million spent from all sources on television ads to help him win the nomination.
  • Legal Missouri, the committee backing Amendment 3, started its broadcast campaign this week with $801,000 in ad buys in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield.
  • The costliest legislative race is the 24th District state Senate race between state Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, and Dr. George Hruza, a Republican. Hruza has spent $525,000 on broadcast ads, McCreery has spent $425,000 and a Democratic PAC, Majority Forward, has spent $81,000.

The lack of involvement by outside groups in the Senate race is clear evidence of how the race is viewed nationally, long-time Republican consultant John Hancock said Thursday.

Schmitt is up 11 percentage points over Valentine in the Real Clear Politics average of post-primary polls, with about 13% of those polled undecided or backing other candidates. While the last publicly available poll was conducted in late September, before either candidate began their fall ad campaign, both parties believe Schmitt holds a commanding lead over Valentine in the Nov. 8 election to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt.

Nationally, Republicans are increasing their investment in races where they see a chance of taking a Democratic seat and Democrats are increasingly focused on holding seats they currently have in the House and Senate.

“The team that is expanding their targets and the teams that are constricting their targets tells you everything you need to know about a campaign,” Hancock said.

Campaign finance reports for state and federal candidates, covering the period up to Sept. 30, were due over the past week.

Valentine’s report shows she is continuing to tap her personal wealth as one of the heirs to the Anheuser-Busch brewery fortune. She has contributed $6.4 million to her own campaign, including $1 million since the primary vote. She also raised $919,000 from mid-July through the end of September.

With personal assets of up to $215 million and income between $5 million and $30 million in 2021, Valentine has the money to spend heavily before the election. Schmitt, who raised $1.5 million from mid-July through Sept. 30, has made her wealth a focus of his attacks, repeatedly calling her “the heiress” and “a limousine liberal.”

Valentine is using her ads attacking Schmitt to criticize his 2013 votes allowing a Chinese corporation to own Missouri farmland and for his role in putting a “dangerous and extreme” law banning abortion into effect following a June Supreme Court decision.

Almost all the broadcast spending so far in the monitored races has been on television. But while broadcast television was once the only way to deliver a video message, the platforms that can supply that message have multiplied, Hancock said.

Social media, streaming services and other platforms provide a cost-effective way to target audiences, he said.

“You need to think of a much broader platform than broadcast television,” he said.

It is still an important medium, Hancock said,especially in politics.

“As things continue to evolve, as eyeballs continue to diversify, broadcast TV will become less utilized,” he said. “Because the voting age demographic skews higher in age than a marketing demographic for a potato chip ad, broadcast still delivers real value.”

The option to skip an ad online is also changing the way messages are delivered, Hancock said. Generally, viewers have to watch a portion of the ad before opting out, making the opening words immensely important.

“You have to have some kind of six-second message,” Hancock said. “The art of the six-second ad has become a thing in advertising and certainly politics.”

The McCreery-Hruza contest promises to be the most expensive legislative race in the state this year. Only three other candidates in competitive races, all Democrats, have purchased broadcast ads. 

A television ad in a district that has only a fraction of the total audience is an expensive decision, said Hancock, who is advising Hruza.

“Any district-based campaign is going to have a lot of bleed in broadcast advertising,” he said.

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Rudi Keller
Rudi Keller

Rudi Keller covers the state budget and the legislature. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he spent 22 of his 32 years in journalism covering Missouri government and politics for the Columbia Daily Tribune, where he won awards for spot news and investigative reporting.