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Michigan is top in the nation for ad spending in state legislature races

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Campaigns for Michigan’s state House and Senate have spent $29 million dollars on political ads in this election cycle so far.

That’s the most in the nation, according to the group AdImpact, which tracks ad spending in political races across the country.

Currently, Democrats have hugely outspent Republicans on state legislative races: $22.6 million vs. just $6.6 million for the GOP, AdImpact’s data show. The vast majority, about $22 million, went toward state Senate race ads.

That reflects national trends in ad spending, said Matt Grossman, a political science professor and director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. “Both that Democrats are raising and spending more money, and that they have spent it earlier than Republicans, who are reserving more of their ammo for the last part of the campaign,” Grossman said.

Grossman said that with a now-nationalized donor base for state legislative races, it makes sense for donors to focus on Michigan, which has become one of the most competitive states in the nation when it comes to which party will control the state legislature. Republicans have ruled both chambers for years, but Grossman said the recent political redistricting spearheaded by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission changed that landscape completely.

“It used to be the case that Republicans had a substantial advantage in terms of winning [state legislative] seats compared to the total statewide votes that were cast in both the House and the Senate,” Grossman said. “The redistricting commission eliminated most of that advantage, so that this year it really will be a kind of a statewide contest as to who which party has more support statewide.”

But will this huge spending advantage for Democrats add up to more seats in the legislature? Grossman said the answer might be yes, but it’s likely to be marginal.

“There is evidence that advertising matters in terms of influencing election margins and outcomes, and it tends to matter more in places where voters know less about the candidates,” he said. But, “there's going to be very little difference between how a district votes in its state legislative race, and how it voted in presidential elections and gubernatorial elections. So places that vote Republican in one race are very likely to vote Republican in other races.

“So that means that advertising is unlikely to have huge effects, but it could still have pivotal effects in these closely-contested districts.”

The most expensive race is in the 12th State Senate district, which includes parts of Wayne, Macomb, and St. Clair counties, and where Democratic State Rep. Kevin Hertel is facing off against Republican State Rep. Pamela Hornberger. Hertel has a significant spending advantage in that race. There’s a similar dynamic in the second-most expensive race, the 11th state Senate district, which is mostly in Macomb County. There, Democrat and Macomb County Commissioner Veronica Klinefelt also has a significant spending advantage over her opponent, incumbent Republican State Sen. Michael MacDonald.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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