Marriage campaigns buy ads in final stretch

The marriage and voter ID ballot questions have spurred more than $8 million in spending.

by Bryna Godar

As Election Day draws near, campaigns face their final five weeks of spending as they strive to sway voters on the proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Campaigns have spent mostly on staff, consultants and smaller advertising, but the largest amount has been reserved for TV ads in the closing stretch.

Minnesotans United for All Families launched its first ads two weeks ago, and Minnesota for Marriage released its first two Sunday.

“Television advertising is by far the most expensive,” said MN United spokeswoman Kate Brickman. “We know that that’s where we have to reserve a lot of money.”

Though expensive, campaigns say TV is effective.

 “In a statewide election, they’re the most efficient way of communicating with voters because the reach of television is pretty vast,” said Frank Schubert, campaign manager for Minnesota for Marriage.

Schubert is the president of Mission: Public Affairs and has worked on six other marriage
campaigns, including three that will be decided in November.

Heather LaMarre, a University of Minnesota journalism professor, said it’s generally a smart strategy to air extensive TV ads leading up to an election, but other campaign ads can eclipse them.

“The problem is, they’re still going to get drowned out by the presidential ads,” LaMarre said.

Brickman and Schubert, however, said they weren’t concerned the presidential race would overshadow the marriage debate.

“I think the marriage issue will be as important as the presidential race when people go to vote — it will be one of the issues that drives interest in the election,” Schubert said.

MN United invested months ago for TV ads in the final weeks of the campaign, though they are still discussing how many different ads the group will air, Brickman said.

Schubert said Minnesota for Marriage will run at least two more ads in addition to the current pair, which are costing about $750,000.

Both groups combined have already spent more than $7.9 million throughout their campaigns with MN United far outpacing Minnesota for Marriage.

MN United has raised about four times more than its opponent.

Brickman attributes this to the personal nature of the amendment for those who oppose it.

“There are lots and lots of people who are directly impacted by this campaign [other] than just gays and lesbians,” Brickman said. “It’s hurtful, and it’s very personal.”

Schubert similarly said that gay marriage supporters are more personally invested, and for the “vote yes” side, it isn’t a major focus of their lives.

“It’s only when they realize that marriage is at risk and there’s a challenge before them that they respond,” he said.


‘Fighting for the middle’

Both marriage groups are striving to target the undecided voters in these final weeks.

“There are lots of people in Minnesota who have already made up their mind on either side of this and in the final weeks of the campaign, we’re all trying to reach those people who are in the middle,” Brickman said.

Polls show Minnesotans are deeply divided on the issue, with neither side clearly in the lead.

LaMarre said both marriage groups’ ads use different strategies aimed at the same sector of voters.

“Both sides are really trying to go after the libertarian conservatives or the independent thinkers,” she said.

One MN United ad features a Catholic Republican couple from Savage, Minn., discussing their evolving views on same-sex marriage and encouraging Minnesotans to vote “no.”

Brickman said MN United has heard from many people who are inspired by the ad and feel like they are not alone in their faith and position anymore.

Minnesota for Marriage’s first ad, the “Threat to Marriage,” takes a different approach and underscores the right of voters to define marriage instead of courts or legislators.

 “Our fundamental position is that marriage is kind of the core institution of society and that it should not be messed with by judges or politicians,” Schubert said.

He thinks the ad will appeal broadly to voters, even resonating with some supporters of same-sex marriage that want voters to make the decision instead of courts.

Brickman conversely said that if the amendment passes, it will take this issue out of the hands of future voters.

“It would basically tell the next generation of Minnesotans that they will not have the opportunity to vote on this as well,” she said.

The amendment turns will be in the hands of voters Nov. 6, and the campaigns are pushing for as many voters as they can get.

“This is a very emotional issue for people and the extreme polarized voters are going to turn out,” LaMarre said.

“They’re fighting for the middle.”