Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence has established an early dominance in Indiana's governor's race by spending heavily to define himself ahead of November's elections.
The congressman has saturated Indiana airwaves in the months since the May 8 Republican primary, spending $1.4 million on campaign commercials since May, according to Democratic ad-trackers. Democratic candidate John Gregg and Libertarian Rupert Boneham, meanwhile, have yet to air campaign ads.
Pence has not only hit the airwaves first, but he has hit them three times, with a series of touchy-feely pieces detailing his courtship with his wife, his history growing up in Indiana and a devastating storm which struck his hometown of Columbus.
Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault declined to comment on the choice of the ads and the topics.
"From meetings with Hoosiers around the state to policy rollouts to advertising, Mike Pence will continue to talk about the issues and take his positive message straight to the people of Indiana," Denault said.
The three Pence ads are only the first volley in what will likely be another costly ad-war in Indiana this year. The gubernatorial candidates are scheduled to release their latest fundraising numbers in mid-July and all will be competing with Indiana's Senate candidates for airtime in the race to November.
One of the key lessons Indiana politicos took from longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar's bruising May primary loss was to get on-air early and spend heavily before the opposition does first. Lugar entered his primary battle with Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock with a big money lead, but was slow to advertise, according to 20-20-hindsight analyses produced in the days and weeks after his loss.
"What he's trying to do is lay out that he's a Hoosier. He's doing the opposite of a Dick Lugar strategy," said former U.S. Rep. Mark Souder, a northeast Indiana Republican.
Where Lugar squandered his money early in his primary race, Pence has the luxury of seeing those mistakes and cashing in on his early money lead to define himself as a native Hoosier before his opponents can tie him to Washington, Souder said.
Pence has a big cash lead over his two opponents as he heads into the November general election. New reports from the campaigns are due out later this month, but Pence has continued to build on his lead with large contributions, including a $1 million check from the Republican Governor's Association.
The Pence campaign's ad-writers told Fox News last month that the purpose of the first ad, featuring Pence and his wife, Karen, ice-skating, was to "introduce" him to Hoosiers statewide. Pence is a known quantity throughout his eastern Indiana congressional district, but is still largely unknown throughout the rest of the state.
The Gregg campaign has argued throughout the campaign that Pence is running away from, instead of on, his extensive time in Congress.
Gregg spokesman Daniel Altman said Pence's first three ads, which have been panned by some Indiana editorial boards as lacking substance, show he's trying to skate his way to victory in November.
"It shows his focus isn't on jobs. He's spent 1.4 million on ads and hasn't said the words jobs once," Altman said.
Denault rejected that assertion, saying Pence has been talking about jobs and other issues on the campaign trail. She pointed to a pair of policy announcements from Pence that call for increased vocational training in Indiana schools and a moratorium on new reforms.
The tightly run Pence campaign has largely stayed its own course, not responding to criticism from Gregg about his record and sticking to its own schedule in releasing details to the public. Pence, however, hit a rare bump after he compared the U.S. Supreme Court's recent health care ruling to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He has apologized since then for making any comparison between the two, but has not said exactly what he said when he spoke to members of the House Republican Conference shortly after the Supreme Court ruling.