Living in New York and Sick of Political Ads? Blame New Jersey
Posted November 1, 2018 7:22 p.m. EDT
For anyone watching television anywhere in the New York City region, there has been no escape. Whether it was during baseball playoffs, the nightly news or “Wheel of Fortune,'’ commercials have offered an endless barrage of political mudslinging.
And most of it is coming from the Jersey side of river.
With the road to shifting control of the House to the Democrats running through New Jersey — and a suddenly vulnerable senator protecting what used to be a safe seat for Democrats — millions in local and national donations have poured into what is typically a relatively quiet state during midterm elections.
The latest indicator: political ads
About $95 million has been spent on political advertisements in the New York City media market this election, more than double the $40 million spent during the 2014 midterm, according to Advertising Analytics, a company that tracks political advertising.
The majority of that surge comes from New Jersey. The unexpectedly competitive Senate race and three congressional races have accounted for $50 million of the political spending in New York City, according to Advertising Analytics. In 2014, they combined for $2 million.
New Jersey does not have its own media market, but is instead divided between New York and Philadelphia. A majority of New Jersey’s competitive House races are within the New York media market, which is the country’s most expensive.
The arc of political ads tends to offer a window into the issues and the lines of attack that campaigns are built on.
Here’s a breakdown of the key ads in some of the most competitive races in New Jersey, and how much has been spent on New York City’s airwaves for each race.
Senate Race: $27.1 Million
Bob Hugin, Republican challenger
One of the central themes in the race has been Hugin’s willingness to spend, and spend big, on a blitz of negative television ads that started as early as April. As of mid-October, Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive, and his allies had spent $18 million on ads in New York, according to Advertising Analytics.
Strategists on both sides say Hugin’s aggressive and expensive negative advertising campaign is a key reason this race in a reliably blue state is so close.
Most of Hugin’s ads have focused on Sen. Robert Menendez’s federal corruption trial, which ended in November in a hung jury. Menendez was also “severely admonished” by the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee.
Most of Hugin’s ads focus on the criminal accusations against Menendez, implying that he was guilty. Menendez, however, was not convicted of any crime and the charges were dropped.
Sen. Robert Menendez, Democratic incumbent
While he stayed largely quiet during the summer, Menendez has unleashed a vigorous line of attack this fall. Earlier ads focused on Hugin’s tenure as chief executive of Celgene, a major pharmaceutical company, but as the race has remained tight, Menendez’s campaign has shifted course to focus on the most unpopular politician in New Jersey: President Donald Trump.
Hugin, who voted for Trump and donated more than $200,000 to Trump’s election effort in 2016, has repeatedly sought to distance himself from the president. During the sole debate in the race, Hugin declared, “I am not a Trump Republican” and he recently chastised the president’s plan to end birthright citizenship.
7th Congressional District: $9.8 million
Tom Malinowski, Democratic challenger
Malinowski, like other Democratic congressional candidates, has been regularly breaking fundraising records, which translates to plenty of advertising.
Malinowski has largely highlighted the new federal tax law, which capped state and local tax deductions at $10,000. Polls indicate the law is more unpopular in this district than in any other in the state.
A relative unknown, Malinowski — a former assistant secretary of state — also had to spend a large percentage of his advertising budget introducing himself to New Jersey voters.
Rep. Leonard Lance, Republican incumbent
Lance, who has been in office since 2009, represents a district that has not elected a Democrat since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. But Trump’s election, the federal tax law and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have set off a Democratic resurgence in the area.
Lance voted against the tax bill. But his record on health care is slightly more complicated. Before 2016, Lance repeatedly voted to repeal the health care law. In 2017, he voted to repeal the law in a committee on which he serves. His votes led to weekly protests outside his office in Westfield.
But when the full House voted, Lance rejected a repeal. As he seeks to navigate a district where polls show that health care is the most important issue, taxes are second and Trump is deeply unpopular, Lance has sought to boost his bipartisan credentials.
11th Congressional District: $8.2 million
Mikie Sherrill, Democratic candidate
From the start of her campaign, Sherrill’s biography has been inseparable from her candidacy: former Navy pilot, former federal prosecutor, mother of four. She’s running in a district where a grassroots group founded by women, NJ 11th for Change, helped push Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the Republican incumbent for 22 years, into retirement.
Sherrill, who has become one of the national stars among Democrats seeking to claim Republican seats, has raised $7.5 million, more than any woman running this cycle and among the highest of any Democratic candidate in the country.
But as popular as she is, Sherrill has never held elected office and was a relatively new face to voters in the district, which encompasses wealthy suburbs in the northern part of the state. Her ads have largely focused on her Navy background and on the tax law, which is also unpopular among voters in the district.
Her opponent, Jay Webber, has said he supported the tax law but was against the capping of state and local taxes.
Jay Webber, Republican candidate
Webber, a New Jersey assemblyman for the past decade, is one of the more conservative congressional candidates in the state. He has received the endorsement of Trump and he held a fundraiser with Vice President Mike Pence.
But in a district that has not elected a Democrat since 1983, but where Trump is disliked, Webber has tried to keep mentions of the president to a minimum. He has instead devoted a significant amount of time talking about health care, a major concern in the district; his family features prominently in his ads. (Webber has seven children.)
His campaign has also tried to tie Sherrill to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, though the two women have never campaigned together.
In one ad, Webber accuses Sherrill of supporting Medicare-for-all, a position she has never taken.
3rd Congressional District: $5.1 million
Rep. Tom MacArthur, Republican incumbent
MacArthur has been Trump’s staunchest ally in New Jersey’s congressional delegation. He wrote a House amendment as part of an effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and was the only New Jersey representative to vote in favor of the tax bill.
MacArthur’s district includes a significant portion of Ocean County, home to the state’s largest base of Trump’s supporters.
But in the campaign’s closing weeks in a district where support for Trump is divided, MacArthur has tried to walk a fine line. His recent ads and speeches have emphasized a record of bipartisanship and delivering for the district, like bringing equipment to a military base.
Andy Kim, Democratic challenger
Kim entered the race with a singular focus: MacArthur’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. With a personal story about the birth of his son, who may have to battle with health complications for the rest of his life, Kim set out to campaign on the Affordable Care Act, specifically its protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
He has also repeatedly cited high drug prices, another important issue in a district with a large older population.
Kim was director for Iraq issues in the National Security Council under President Barack Obama.