Ad blitz about to begin in Missouri GOP primary contest for governor | St. Louis Public Radio

Ad blitz about to begin in Missouri GOP primary contest for governor

Jun 3, 2016

Updated Monday, June 6, with details on Eric Greitens' first TV ad — After raising money for months, or even years, it’s now time for many Missouri candidates to start spending it.

That’s particularly true in the state’s four-way GOP contest for governor, where the contenders are launching their final two-month sprint to woo voters for the Aug. 2 primary.

As of Monday, St. Louis area voters will start seeing more TV ads.

Surprisingly, among the first TV “sprinters’’ to hit the region’s airwaves this month is Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who until a few days ago had the least amount of money in the bank among the state’s five major candidates for governor.

Missouri's Republican candidates for governor

But armed with $500,000 from two new donors, Kinder’s finances have dramatically improved.  And on Monday, he’s launching a small — but still notable — statewide TV ad campaign on a handful of cable stations around the state.

Kinder’s ad buy — roughly $85,000, according to his campaign — includes spots on cable Fox News in the St. Louis area. But most of his spending will be on TV and radio stations in Republican territories around the state, notably Joplin and Springfield, Mo.

His targeting also demonstrates another defining fact of this year’s hottest state primary: The GOP candidates are trying to aim their activities and their spending at the most fertile blocs of Republican votes. 

St. Louis businessman John Brunner, for example, has been spending most of his ad dollars in the solid GOP markets of Cape Girardeau, Joplin and Springfield, Mo., with just a smattering of spending in the St. Louis TV market.

That decision reflects, in part, the fact that outstate Republicans are expected to cast more than 60 percent of the GOP primary votes.  That’s based on a breakdown of the 2012 Republican primary vote for governor.

Still, the St. Louis area remains consequential. The largest bloc of Republican votes in the 2012 primary — 32.3 percent — came from the St. Louis metro area, including St. Charles, Jefferson, Warren and Franklin counties.

Ads can play 'defining' role

Overall, Brunner has  been running TV spots since May 10, the campaign said. His current ad highlights Brunner’s background as a businessman — one of his major pitches to voters.

“We’ve been up for a few weeks now,’’ said Brunner spokesman Michael Hafner. “We’re kind of surprised that the other candidates haven’t  started yet, and we’re only 60 days out.”

Brunner’s campaign, among others, is particularly surprised that Greitens — who has the most money in the bank, by far — has yet to begin running TV spots.

“It’s surprising that he’s not been out there more, trying to define himself,” Hafner said. A spokesman in one of the other campaigns asserted privately that Greitens was leaving an opening for his GOP rivals to first define him to voters.

Greitens spokesman Austin Chambers emphasized that Greitens’ operation had a plan and was sticking to it.

The campaign later announced that Greitens was launching his first TV ad on Tuesday, and displaying some firepower. 

“We feel very good about where we are,’’ Chambers said. “People are looking for a conservative outsider who’s never run for office before.”

And of the five major candidates for governor in both parties, he added, only Greitens fits that bill.

Reaching out to touch voters

Among other things, Chambers said that the Greitens campaign is currently making about 40,000 phone calls a week to reach out to potential voters.

Meanwhile, Hanaway’s camp is highlighting her recent success in visiting all 114 of Missouri’s counties (plus the city of St. Louis) as part of her “Make Missouri Safe and Strong” tour.

Hanaway has been focusing primarily on her recent past as U.S. attorney for Missouri’s Eastern District, under then-President George W. Bush. She maintains that her record makes her the strongest candidate to take on the likely Democratic nominee, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster.

Kinder disagrees, contending that his record of winning three straight statewide elections makes him the best Republican to take on Koster. Kinder has repeatedly noted that none of his three GOP rivals have won even one statewide election. (Hanaway lost a bid for secretary of state in 2004.)

Kinder campaign manager Craig Arnzen contended that the lieutenant governor also has been tapping into “an enormous amount of voter discontent’’ over how the state and the nation have been run by Democrats in the governor’s mansion and the White House.

Kinder makes peace with Humphreys

Most Republican analysts agree that Kinder has, by far, the most name recognition among the GOP hopefuls — which the candidate has asserted means that he can win the primary without raising or spending the most money.

But within the past week, Kinder — who last reported less than $700,000 in the bank — almost doubled the size of his bank account with just two donations of $250,000 apiece.  

They came from David Humphreys, chief executive of Tamko Building Products, based in Joplin, and his sister, Sara Atkins.

The Humphreys money is significant because David Humphreys had pressured Kinder to resign in 2011, or not seek re-election in 2012, because of the controversy over Kinder’s acknowledged friendship with a former stripper.

Humphreys donated $550,000 in 2012 to Kinder’s GOP rival, then-state Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, and was suspected of being behind an independent group that ran anti-Kinder ads.

Kinder campaign manager Arnzen had only kind words to say about Humphreys: “We’re honored to have his support.”

Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

Arnzen added that Kinder’s new TV ads won’t be slamming any of his Republican rivals. Any attacks, he said, will be reserved for Koster.

Outside group also targets Koster

Koster has no major Democratic primary opponent, which has helped protect his hefty bank account of almost $8 million — the largest of any of Missouri’s candidates for governor. Koster has continued to raise money, and hasn't had to spend much.

But an independent group called Missouri Rising, which doesn’t have to identify its donors, has been increasingly lobbing attacks at Koster. A spokesman recently said that the aim was to make sure that Koster doesn’t get off the hook this summer, while the four Republican contenders battle it out.

Among other things, the group has focused on a disparaging story in the New York Times almost two years ago that raised questions as to whether Koster’s office gave favorable treatment to campaign donors. Koster denied any wrongdoing, and then put in place a policy that apparently bars any firm or individual with cases before his office from donating to Koster’s campaign.

As for Missouri Rising, a Koster campaign spokesman contends, “The secret, dark-money organizations that have been spending money in Missouri attacking Attorney General Koster are the exact Washington, D.C., special interest groups that people are sick and tired of. Attacks from these groups reek of hypocrisy and desperation …”

Koster has largely watched from the sidelines during the GOP contest to choose his general-election opponent.  He has run no TV spots, and his campaign declined to say when that will change.

Meanwhile, the four Republican contenders have been engaging in regular debates or forums.  So far, the four have made close to a dozen joint appearances, a Brunner spokesman said, with six more debates or forums scheduled in the coming weeks.

Those debates include one at 7 p.m. July 6 at St. Louis Public Radio. Plans call for it to be broadcast on various public radio stations around the state.

“We’ve lost count how many debates or forums have been held,’’ said Brunner spokesman Hafner. The large number, he asserted, is “really unprecedented in Missouri’s modern political era.”

Dave Robertson, head of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, predicts that Missouri voters will witness over the next two months "a rock-em, sock-em primary."