May 23, 2022
Americans across five states from the past week can now have a breath of relief and enjoy television, radio, and digital media with slightly less political ads as the primaries and their advertisements, wrap up. Primary elections took place on 5/17 in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon and Idaho. Oregonians in particular might be the most excited in this prospect as the Pacific North-west state saw an unusual amount of primary political spending this cycle, looking at the competitive spending trends in Oregon over the last couple election cycles In the top three spending races in Oregon, a total of $33 million was spent in total. The incredible increase in spending on Oregon’s primaries can be attributed to the prominence of some of the state’s races. Democratic voters in Oregon’s fifth Congressional district found themselves in yet another battlefield between mainstream Democrats and progressive Democrats. Voters in Oregon’s sixth congressional district found themselves the victims in one of our nation’s most expensive primary races, where outside issue groups are the biggest spenders by an overwhelming majority. Even a contested Governor’s race, forced Republicans, Democrats, and a well-funded Independent, to spend an increased amount on their primaries.
In a state where the outgoing Governor is among the most unpopular in the nation, a recent poll in Portland found only 8% of the city’s inhabitants feel positive about the city’s future. Republicans, Democrats and even an Independent all spent to a competitive extent in an effort to appear on the ballot in November. Portland, although not the capital of the state is the largest media market, where we saw over $5.8 million spent throughout the Oregon Governor primary battle.
Interestingly, the highest spending advertiser in the OR Governor primary race, is not even on the ballot for the primary. Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic State Senator turned Independent, does not have any challengers for a primary race, and will appear on the general election ballot as long as she gains enough signatures. Positioning herself as a centrist and above the two parties, Johnson has attracted big named donors that has enabled her to spend $2.1 million. While there has been no recent polling that has included Johnson, a poll by DHM research in January, found that Johnson could attract anywhere between 11% to 30% of the electorate against a generic Democrat and Republican. This is an anomaly where the largest advertiser in a race is one whose name does not even appear on the ballot for another almost 6 months. Johnson may be trying to garner name recognition as early as possible while there is attention to advertisements, due to Oregon’s election laws where voting is solely by mail in ballot.
With hopes that the outgoing Governor’s unpopularity and Johnson being able to steal some typically Democratic voters, Republican candidates were compelled to spend in the primary to become their party’s nominee and try to reclaim the Governor’s mansion in Salem for the first time in 35 years. Former State Representative and State Minority Leader, Christine Drazan ended up defeating her equally matched spending rival, businessman Bob Tiernan in the primary by a margin of 23% to 18%. Other significant Republican spenders would include first time candidate Bridget Barton, former GOP nominee for Governor in 2016, Bud Pierce, and Mayor of Sandy, Stan Pulliam.
On the Democratic side, there were far less Democratic candidates spending money to be on the airwaves across Oregon. Former OR House Speaker Tina Kotek handily defeating her rival, Treasurer Tobias Reed, by a margin of 54% to 32%.
In Oregon CD-05, the topline story was a competitive Democratic primary between incumbent Congressman Schrader and Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a progressive Democrat who was the party’s nominee in the 2018 OR CD-02 General Election. McLeod-Skinner has attacked Schrader for being a centrist within the party and has raised concerns that Schrader has never represented at least 50% of the constituents in the newly drawn-out district. Congressman Schrader has consistently outspent Mcleod-Skinner throughout the primary, spending $3.3 million to her $326,000. Including issue groups such as House Majority PAC, Center Forward, Mainstream Democrats and PILMA, over $8 million has been spent in support of Schrader while still only $326,000 spent in favor of Mcleod-Skinner. Now after election day, and complete results in, Mcleod-Skinner tallied 60% of the vote to Congressman Schrader’s 40% of the vote, creating a situation where the more money spent does not always correlate with a victory in the polls.
Oregon CD-06 Competitive Spending Trends
The primary races for OR CD-06 saw record breaking amounts of cash spent. The OR CD-06 primary has been the most expensive race in Oregon since 2016 on record for AdImpact.
With a whopping total of $19 million spent, this primary is one of the most expensive in the nation. The topline story for this race is the sudden appearance of a pro-Democratic PAC, Protect our Future. Backing first time candidate, Carrick Flynn, Protect our Future has spent $11 million, out of this race’s total $19 million. A unique quirk about this PAC’s spending is that it is entirely based on cryptocurrencies, making it one of the first crypto-backed political PAC’s. Headed by crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, the PAC focuses on supporting Democratic candidates “who take a long term view on policy planning,”.
Additionally, this race is among the few races where the House Majority PAC has spent money on advocating for a specific candidate in a Democratic primary. The House Majority PAC endorsed Flynn over the other Democrats and has spent $1 million on pro-Flynn advertising. In a retaliatory move to this, the progressive CHC BOLD Pac, dropped $1 million on Senator Warren’s endorsed candidate, Andrea Salinas. With this extent of issue group spending, candidates and constituents alike have slammed the extent of outside issue group spending within the race. One notable example, Cody Reynolds, a candidate for the Democratic primary declared “Democracy is dead” if Flynn wins.
Despite Protect our Future and the House Majority PAC giving Flynn an overall total spending advantage, Salinas ultimately defeated Flynn 38% to 19%.
With the House Majority PAC and the Congressional Leadership Fund already placing millions in pre-booked ads in both OR CD-05 and OR CD-06, and the chance for a competitive independent candidate in Oregon’s gubernatorial race, it looks like spending will only continue to increase in Oregon past last week’s primary and the competitive spending trends from the primary races give good indication there will be increased and competitive spending for the general election as well.