Northam leading TV spending; Republicans spending little

From left to right: Ed Gillespie, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democrat Ralph Northam has outspent rival Tom Perriello by more than 2 to 1 on TV advertising in Virginia’s closely watched governor’s race with less than four weeks before the primary.

Spokesmen for both campaigns said Wednesday that their media tracking showed Northam had spent $1.2 million while Perriello has spent more than $500,000.

Virginia and New Jersey are the only states set to elect governors this year, and the contest in the Old Dominion is attracting broad national attention as a possible early referendum on President Donald Trump ahead of the 2018 midterms.

TV spending, one of the most expensive parts of campaigning, gives a glimpse of the relative financial strength of each candidate with less than a month to go. Virginia doesn’t require contenders for statewide office to report their fundraising and spending for April and May until just before the June 13 primary.

Northam spokesman David Turner said the figures show the campaign is in a position of strength, and he mocked Perriello’s reliance on out-of-state donors.

“Clearly Tom Perriello needs to spend some more time in New York and California because he doesn’t have the resources to communicate to Virginians,” Turner said.

Perriello spokesman Ian Sams said Northam’s lead is shrinking despite his heavy spending “as our campaign smartly holds critical investments until the home stretch when undecided voters tune in.”

Perriello has been playing catchup on fundraising since his surprise entrance into the race in January. Northam has essentially been running for more than two years. He reported having $1.4 million more cash on hand than Perriello as of March 31. Perriello’s first fundraising report showed a significant portion of his money came from a handful of wealthy donors, including billionaire George Soros.

Both candidates have spent the bulk of their funds on cable and broadcast TV ads in pricey and voter-rich Northern Virginia’s market, according to Kantar Media. Northam has spent $724,000 while Perriello has spent about $410,000.

Perriello has also earned plenty of free news coverage lately with a TV ad focused on health care that features a compactor crushing an ambulance. The shot was filmed in one take and came out as U.S. House Republicans voted to pass legislation scuttling much of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Observers are keenly watching the Democratic primary between Northam and Perriello as a potential signal for where the party at large is headed in the Trump era. Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, enjoys broad support among state party leaders and activists. Perriello, a former congressman endorsed by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, has sought to capitalize on anti-Trump energy and broaden the typical primary voting pool.

On the Republican side, Ed Gillespie is the only candidate currently spending money on TV. He’s spent about $235,000, according to media tracking company Advertising Analytics LLC.

Gillespie has a huge fundraising lead over GOP rivals Corey Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner.