our capitol bureau GOP outsiders advertise early and often

May 26, 2018 GMT

Robert V. Stefanowski, a former corporate executive who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor without paying the usual respects to the party hierarchy, is leading in one way so far — advertising.

Stefanowski, of Madison, has spent a half-million dollars on television ads in the state.

David Stemerman, of Greenwich, who closed his multibillion-dollar hedge fund to make a similar run for Connecticut governor, has also made a six-figure commitment to television ads.

Political scientists say outsider Republicans like Stefanowski and Stemerman, with no name recognition or public record, have to work harder and spend their cash earlier.

“First of all, they have to get on the ballot,” said Gary L. Rose chairman of the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies at Sacred Heart University.

Neither candidate participated in the GOP nominating convention at Foxwoods Resort & Casino, but both were there, luring conventioneers with lavishly catered parties. Now they are spending on canvassers who can collect the 9,000 or so signatures they each need to petition onto the August primary ballot, as is Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti and state Rep. Prasad Srinivasan of Glastonbury.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, former Trumbull first selectman Tim Herbst and Steve Obsitnik, a tech entrepreneur from Westport, earned spots on the ballot at the Republican convention and are waiting for their $1.25 million public-financing grants to be awarded before taking to TV.

Spending early and often

Stefanowski has been getting his name out since the end of January, according to public filing documents on the state’s major TV-station websites.

A former General Electric and UBS executive, he is making a concerted effort on Connecticut television and radio with help from a Virginia consultant with ties to President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory.

Stemerman, at this point, is depending less on traditional broadcast-TV outlets and more on cable TV and digital ads.

His campaign has purchased time for at least 963 ads on Connecticut’s top three TV affiliates, at a cost of $475,225, Hearst Connecticut Media has found.

You will be able to view his 30-second spot, in which he brags about his business prowess, on “CBS Sunday Morning,” on Channel 3, WFSB in Hartford. The one ad cost $975, along with 327 other spots totaling $270,550 that the political newcomer has contracted with WFSB in an effort to build the kind of name recognition traditional state politicians take years to accumulate.

During the week leading up to the Aug. 14 primary, Stefanowski will have 93 TV spots on WTNH News 8, at a cost of $25,800. In all, he has contracted 578 ads there, for $197,900. His 57 spots on Fox 61 have cost $6,775.

“Voters like my plan to cut taxes and create jobs, spreading that message as the only candidate on broadcast TV has placed our campaign firmly in the lead by a four-to-one margin,” Stefanowski said Friday.

For Stemerman, public filings with various state cable providers indicate contracts totaling about $138,000.

“We’re investing seriously in this race and are excited about giving voters a choice in August,” a Stemerman spokesman said on Friday, adding there has also been a traditional-broadcast TV presence, but declining to confirm the campaign’s advertising investment.

Documents on file with the State Elections Enforcement Commission indicate about $300,000 in media-related expenditures for the Stemerman campaign, including a $12,000 photo shoot and $13,600 for “media training.”

The cost of name recognition

These hundreds of thousands of dollars may be the least unknowns can do to get their names out before the public. It might also be a waste of money.

“Stefanowski’s certainly a first-mover in this race, but whether it translates into victory remains to be seen,” said Richard Hanley, associate professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University.

Hanley said that Stefanowski’s monetary commitment — running outside the state’s voluntary public-financing program — allows him to purchase his own brand and tailor his message on traditional TV.

“The ads are going wall-to-wall on local news,” Hanley said. “But at some point it becomes noise. He might be better off spending money on Uber rides to get voters to the polls.”

Only about 120,000 voters, a quarter of the state’s registered Republicans, are likely to vote in the primary to determine the candidate for governor.

So far, Hanley said, he doesn’t see any candidate, Democrat or Republican, generating much excitement, or interest.

“I think it is very ordinary for an extraordinary time, with the state in fiscal crisis after fiscal crisis; the uncertainty of local property taxes,” Hanley said. “The candidates don’t reflect energy. There’s nothing to grab people’s attention. The ads are ordinary and the issues are similar to those Republicans have been using to persuade people for generations.”

Running outside the normal Republican realm, without acknowledging old-time party stalwarts, doesn’t really give Stefanowski or Stemerman an advantage, Rose said.

“Because of the state’s dire straits, people with concrete experience will have the edge,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association, anticipating that Connecticut will be in play this year, has booked $430,450 in TV ads for the three broadcast stations in late September, October and November.

“They feel they can get a blue state into the red column, at least in the governor’s race,” Hanley said. “That’s part of their strategy of ‘Statehouse to White House.’ ”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT