By John Kopp, Delaware County Daily Times
Delaware County candidates seeking state office have combined to spend more than $6.2 million this year, thanks to an unusual number of down-ballot races being waged on television.
The hotly-contested state Senate race between John Kane and Tom McGarrigle has cluttered network television with campaign advertisements while a trio of state House races have played out on cable television.
State legislature candidates typically campaign by sending mailers and knocking on doors. Those tactics have not been abandoned, but an influx of campaign funding has pushed four local races onto television.
“This is, in my experience, unprecedented,” said David Landau, chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party. “To have this kind of voter persuasion effort, both in the mail and on television and door-to-door, has never happened before in this many races.”
The vast majority of state legislative races are not competitive — if they are even contested — because their districts are dominated by one political party.
However, party registration numbers are much closer in the Philadelphia suburbs. That prompts the parties’ state campaign committees to target suburban seats and enables special interest groups to pump huge sums of money into select campaigns.
“Being able to focus resources like that gives these campaigns a lot of money,” said Craig Wheeland, a professor of public administration at Villanova University. “That’s why they can afford to run TV commercials extensively and combine that with a lot of mailings.”
Delaware County’s two open-seat races, coupled with the unpopularity of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, have Democrats gunning to pick up seats in a county that has become increasingly Democratic.
“It’s the fact of political life that serious campaigns take serious money,” Landau said. “I’ve said since Day 1 that we are running serious candidates that were going to put together complete campaigns. And each of them have.”
Kane, a Democrat, and McGarrigle, a Republican, have been the county’s biggest spenders — by a long shot — as they seek the open seat in the 26th Senatorial District. They have combined to spend nearly $4 million, a figure more commonly totaled in mildly competitive Congressional races.
The six candidates in the races for the 161st, 163rd and 165th legislative districts have combined to spend nearly another $1.5 million. Each of those races has been fought on cable TV.
Andy Reilly, chairman of the Delaware County GOP, said Republicans were forced to match the spending of the Democrats, but insisted the party’s strong community ties creates an advantage.
Though countywide registration favors Democrats, Republicans hold most of the county’s legislative seats.
“People from around the state look at Delaware County and say that should be Democratic,” Reilly said. “We are our own brand in Delaware County. … We don’t run on national Republican issues. We run on community issues.”
The open seat in the 26th District presents the opportunity for the Democrats to secure a seat long held by Republicans. They are selling it as essential to their quest of controlling the state Senate, which they have not done since 1994.
Both parties have dumped major resources into the race.
Kane and McGarrigle essentially matched one another in spending during the previous reporting cycle, which lasted from June 10 to Oct. 20. They combined to spend $3.37 million, each spending about $1.68 million.
They each had fewer than $65,000 on hand at the reporting deadline, but reinforcements came flooding into their coffers. By Friday, Kane had raised another $442,500 while McGarrigle had added $389,419.
“When we both started this, I bet we both figured we’d spend $1 million each,” McGarrigle said. “It’ll be about a $5 million race between both of us.”
Kane, the business manager of Plumbers Union Local 690, has gained much of his funding from unions while also receiving $815,000 from the Democratic State Senate Campaign Committee.
“I think we’ve surpassed every goal that I needed to achieve,” Kane said.
McGarrigle, the chairman of Delaware County Council, has received much of his funding from various Republican lawmakers and GOP committees, including $725,000 from the campaign chest of state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-9, of Chester.
At least $2.5 million of their funding has been spent on television ads, in which they have attacked one another over union ties and delinquent taxes. Kane has spent $1.3 million on TV ads to McGarrigle’s $1.2 million.
Purchasing network television ads enhanced the visibility of the candidates and the race. Yet, the campaigns paid expensive amounts to run ads that reached audiences well beyond the constituency.
“It’s almost like shooting a mouse with a shotgun,” Reilly said. “More of the pellets are going to miss.”
The state House candidates mostly have stuck to cable ads, a less-expensive option that also brings less exposure.
“Probably a lot of people don’t get to see these ads, but what they do is they get the press discussing those ads,” said J. Wesley Leckrone, associate professor of political science at Widener University. “It’s not necessarily the fact that the ads are running, but that they create a conversation.”
That chatter has been pricey. The three state House races that hit airwaves each have cost more than $250,000.
Democrat Vince Rongione and Republican Jamie Santora have combined to spend $387,988 in their fight for the open seat in the 163rd Legislative District, one of the most competitive races in the state.
Rongione has outspent Santora by about $8,000, but Santora had $90,785 more on hand at the reporting deadline. Santora also gained another $127,657 during the current 24-hour reporting period. Rongione added $45,000.
The other two state House races being waged on television involve Democrats challenging Republican incumbents.
State Rep. Joe Hackett, R-161, of Ridley Township, has spent $164,018 defending his seat against Democratic challenger Leanne Krueger-Braneky, who has spent $130,776.
Longtime state Rep. William Adolph, R-165, of Springfield, has spent $548,818 since Jan. 1. Most of that has been spent since August, when Democrat Charles Hadley, a retired venture capitalist, replaced Jeremy Fearn on the ballot. Hadley, who invested $100,000 of his own money into the race, has spent $263,216.