Bush leads McBride in TV time
By STEVE BOUSQUET and CANDACE RONDEAUX
TAMPA -- The huge fundraising advantage that Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republican Party hold over Bill McBride and the Democrats is evident every day in living color.
In the Tampa Bay area, the state's largest TV market and home to tens of thousands of moderate suburban voters, Bush's TV ad spending dwarfs McBride's by a 5-1 ratio, according to logs at all four area network TV affiliates. And the big barrage hasn't even begun.
"McBride doesn't have the money, and if that doesn't change soon it's going to be 10 to 1," said Pat Roberts, a lobbyist for the Florida Association of Broadcasters. Roberts is a Bush supporter and his organization is neutral in the campaign.
Polls show a close race. But a St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald survey two weeks ago found one-third of likely voters still didn't know enough about McBride to give an opinion. It is why, less than four weeks before the election, McBride is still running ads about his background.
Bush is winning the air war by a landslide. For every TV image of McBride in his Marine Corps fatigues, a typical Tampa Bay viewer might see five images of Bush touting education, prescription drug savings or tougher crime laws.
Since the primary, Bush's campaign has spent or reserved $1,138,400 on TV ads at the big four Tampa broadcast stations. McBride spent $227,710 during the same period. The totals reflect the amount of air time bought and paid for through Tuesday.
"It's no secret that we have out-raised Bill McBride, and therefore it should come as no surprise that we are outspending him significantly in many places," said Bush campaign spokesman Todd Harris. In the state's three biggest TV markets, Tampa, Miami and Orlando, Bush is spending about $150,000 a week on Spanish-language ads. McBride is spending nothing, according to a study by the Johns Hopkins Journal of American Politics.
"Republicans will always outspend Democrats," McBride spokesman Alan Stonecipher said. "Republicans can try to present a shiny face on Jeb Bush, with all the millions they have, but ultimately the voters are going to have a clear choice."
Bush's millions help smother McBride in lucrative time slots. Bush will spend $17,000 on a single 30-second spot during Sunday's Bucs-Browns game on CBS's WTSP, Channel 10. He will spend $13,000 for a single ad during Law and Order on Oct. 16. McBride spent $6,500 to advertise on NBC's Frasier, on WFLA, Channel 8.
"Every dollar means how many bodies are watching and the governor can afford to buy the large demos, and targeted demos," said Roberts, referring to demographic groups a campaign targets as carefully as car dealers or cell phone companies do.
"At the end of the day, candidates are a brand, just like anything else that's advertised," said Eric Land, WFLA president and general manager.
With 26 days to go, Bush and McBride are running only positive ads. Viewers see no dancing feet or laid-off secretaries with ominous background music. But the feel-good approach can't last.
Bush and McBride are bracing for an expensive air war, but apparently waiting for the other to make the first negative move.
In the primary, Bush attacked McBride first with an ad that had a touch of humor. McBride responded with an ad suggesting Bush's attack showed he feared McBride the most. Bush then raised the stakes with a more clearly negative ad calling McBride a corporate lawyer who enriched himself at the expensive of low-wage employees.
McBride says he is not attacking Bush on TV because the governor is doing his work for him, talking about "devious plans" he has to deal with a popular class size amendment the governor opposes.
"When somebody's pounding themselves, you don't need to pile on," McBride said.
McBride and the Democrats have prepared ads criticizing Bush's record and suggesting a flip-flop in a recent $2.8-billion school construction plan.
McBride says the governor's attacks during the Democratic primary boosted McBride's standing.
Bush, though, said the strategy worked. "McBride was surging to an inevitable victory because he got all that union money," Bush said. Janet Reno, who lost to McBride, "was looking past the primary," Bush said, "which is a fatal mistake. I think the ads stopped his momentum."
Candidates use negative ads because they work and some Democrats fret that their nominee can't wait much longer.
State Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, buttonholed McBride at a fundraiser Monday and urged the candidate to go on the offensive.
"I told Bill, 'You can't permit Jeb to get away with what he's saying,' " Geller said.
Through Sept. 27, Bush raised $6.7-million and McBride $3.4-million. But McBride started the general election campaign flat broke, while the Republicans had raised $26-million compared to the Democrats' $6.7-million. And Bush is still raising money, with fundraisers this week in Tampa, Orlando and Tallahassee.
Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe said the party has raised more than $1-million each week since the Sept. 10 primary. Together, the McBride campaign and the party are on track to rake in more than $10-million between now and Nov. 5, he said.
McBride held three South Florida fundraisers this week, including one Tuesday at the oceanfront home of Robert Montgomery, a Palm Beach trial lawyer who led the state's legal attack against tobacco companies. At receptions in Broward and Miami on Monday, McBride raised $250,000, said finance director Jeff Lieser, and the party took in $75,000 more.
A week from Friday, McBride travels to New York for a breakfast fundraiser with former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and a luncheon fundraiser with former President Bill Clinton.
-- Times staff writer Wes Allison and researcher Deirdre Morrow contributed to this report.
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