ANNAPOLIS – Although the Democratic primary is still nearly a year away, many predict that Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan each will need every minute of that time simply to get name recognition in the other’s home turf.
And time isn’t the only thing they’ll need, experts agree. Maryland’s bifurcated media market could mean bills of nearly $700,000 for a week’s worth of TV advertising that would saturate the state.
Figures like that, these experts say, could easily drive the cost of the primary campaign alone to between $3 million and $5 million. Those figures are considered well within the fund-raising abilities of both Duncan and O’Malley, but do not include the money the winner will need to spend in the general election campaign against the Republican incumbent, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
After six years as mayor and almost daily exposure on television and in the newspapers, O’Malley is a household name in the Baltimore region. He is much less well known, however, in suburban Washington, the presumed stronghold of Duncan and home to nearly a third of the state’s Democratic voters. More than 40 percent of Maryland’s population is in the Washington media market.
Duncan, elected three times as county executive of the state’s most populous jurisdiction, is probably starting from a lower base in the Baltimore region than O’Malley is in the Washington area. Both independent and internal polls have given O’Malley a significant statewide lead over Duncan, assuming polls taken before the campaign has even begun can be considered meaningful.
Duncan’s task in the Baltimore area is somewhat easier because it is a smaller and less expensive media market than Washington. Washington is the nation’s eighth largest media market, Baltimore, the nation’s 24th.
“Baltimore is cheaper than Washington; Duncan has a slight advantage in that sense,” said James G. Gimpel, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland College Park.
Gimpel also pointed out that Washington’s larger market is a less efficient market. Candidates buying time on Washington television and radio stations are paying to reach people in the District of Columbia and Virginia.
“Democrats can’t afford to write off the Washington market,” said George Shelton, a partner at political consulting firm Strother, Duffy and Strother. “You are looking at a significant portion of the state. You are going to pay through the nose and the majority of (viewers) don’t live in Washington.”
Keith Haller, president of Potomac Survey Research, estimates that the Washington media market is about two and a half times as expensive as Baltimore.
In buying broadcast television advertising time, cost depends on such variables as the time of day the ads run, the programs in which they appear, and how often they run. Demographic data is also a factor in the cost.
Taking these variables into account, experts estimate that a moderately strong media buy, which means the average person would see the ad eight to 10 times a week, would cost $450,000 to $500,000 for one week in Washington. A similar media buy in Baltimore would cost $175,000 to $200,000. Because of the variables, costs in each market have the potential to be higher or lower.
Experts estimate weekly costs toward the end of the campaign could be around $700,000 for broadcast television ads for the entire state of Maryland, including the Baltimore, Washington and Salisbury media markets. No candidate would be spending that kind of money for more than a few weeks.
“If you are a relatively unknown candidate you’ll pay more for name recognition and need to start earlier,” Shelton said. He said that once a candidate begins a television campaign, he or she must sustain it because support tends to erode if a candidate “goes dark” toward the end of a campaign.
Haller said the key to building name recognition is to mount a multi-faceted advertising campaign including television and radio, along with more grassroots approaches like door-to-door campaigning and phone banks.
“It’s about not putting all your eggs in one basket,” he said. “It’s not cost effective to buy a lot of broadcast television and radio ads unless you have money to burn.”
Haller said it is tough to predict how much a campaign will cost because of variables, but he estimated O’Malley and Duncan will need “$3 million to play but $5 million to be safe.” He noted that primaries are more expensive because reaching the desired pool of voters is like “looking for a needle in a haystack.”
As of its January 2005 report, Duncan’s campaign had a balance of roughly $1.5 million. O’Malley’s January 2005 campaign report showed a little over $1 million in its account; O’Malley raised $2 million at a June fundraiser. Both candidates say they are confident they will have the funds to defeat the other as well as Ehrlich. The Bob Ehrlich for Maryland committee had a balance of $4.5 million as of January.