Faced with the prospect of another U.S. senate campaign in Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick was blunt: “I’m fatigued.” How much more torture can Massachusetts residents take? Sometime mid-year, the Red Sox will again be in last place and -- maybe worse? -- the airwaves could be filled with another nauseating onslaught of negative political ads.
The state will be holding its third U.S. senate election in five years. With the citizens united in their distaste, the owners of local TV stations (and their sales forces) have to be just about the only ones looking forward to more brutal combat.
Fresh off the war between incumbent Sen. Scott Brown (R) and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren last year, the stations are getting a gift with Sen. John Kerry about to create an open seat when he becomes secretary of state. The amount of their bounty will be heavily impacted by whether Brown jumps into the race, but even if he stays out, they'll get an unexpected bonus in an off-year for federal elections.
Cheering for Brown to enter are CBS and Fox, which have owned-and-operated stations in Boston. (CBS has a duopoly with the MyNetworkTV affiliate there.) Also roaring are Hearst, with the ABC affiliate there, and Sunbeam with an NBC-CW duopoly.
Last year, Warren topped Brown in a race where at least $84 million was spent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Not all of it went to TV ads, but pardon any Bay Staters for getting that impression.
Brown hammered Warren for claiming Cherokee ancestry and suggested that helped her career. Warren warned that as a Republican, Brown could be the single vote leading to a repeal of Roe vs. Wade and tax breaks for millionaires.
In 2009, Brown unexpectedly was sent to Washington after capturing a special election (costing an estimated $28 million). It cannot be understated how much of a boon Brown’s winning has proven to be for stations and could again this year.
Republicans rarely win statewide office in Massachusetts. As an incumbent, Brown made what could have been a non-competitive race in 2012 a battle.
Over the next few months this year, Democrats will likely have a competitive primary, generating significant spending. But if Brown opts to take on the winner, big money – and nasty ads -- should keep flowing until the summer, especially if superPACs get fired up. Brown will announce his intentions soon.
Rep. Ed Markey has announced he’ll run for the seat as a Democrat and reportedly face Rep. Stephen Lynch in the primary. Markey has $3.1 million cash on hand, while Lynch has $740,000. The Boston Globe reported one poll shows Brown leading Markey, the favorite, by 10 points.
Once stations finish counting the cash this year, they can get ready for more thanks to senate turnover with a fourth election in six years set for 2014. Brown may take a pass this time, but sign on then. That’d be good news for media owners, whose Massachusetts mantra might be: Brown means green.