SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert's campaign has spent about $200,000 so far to air TV commercials for his re-election bid, almost four times as much as his opponent in the June 28 Republican primary, Jonathan Johnson.
Herbert's campaign just purchased nearly $69,000 in airtime over the next two weeks from KSL-TV and about $16,000 to advertise on Fox 13 on top of the $115,000 he's already paid to local TV stations.
Johnson's campaign has spent nearly $54,000 to air TV commercials on local stations, according to reports filed by the stations with the Federal Communications Commission.
The Overstock.com chairman's campaign manager, Dave Hansen, said Tuesday more airtime will probably be purchased later this week. Johnson recently received a $250,000 contribution from the former Overstock.com leader, Patrick Byrne.
The governor was first to hit the airwaves with commercials touting his efforts to boost Utah's economy. The commercials, which do not mention Johnson, began airing shortly after Herbert's April 23 loss in the state Republican Party convention.
In contrast, one of Johnson's commercials focuses solely on the controversy surrounding a secretly recorded fundraising meeting Herbert had with lobbyists, where the governor called himself "Available Jones" and offered to meet with their clients in exchange for campaign contributions.
The other Johnson commercial refers to Herbert's long political career, with a narrator telling viewers, "Experience usually makes you better, but not in politics." It, too, refers to the controversy, describing Herbert as "tied to lobbyists."
Hansen said he didn't see the commercials that began airing about a week ago as negative advertising.
"Is it negative to use his own words on the pay-to-play ad? All we used was exactly what Gov. Herbert said in the meeting. Nothing was created. No allegations were made that he didn't already bring up," he said. "We thought the public ought to hear them."
Marty Carpenter, Herbert's campaign manager, said the governor is "committed to running a positive, issue-oriented campaign" that reminds voters what they like about the state and the way it's run.
Carpenter said Utahns are more focused on the economy and education than they are they are the governor's relationship with lobbyists. He said Utah voters don't like it when campaigns are negative.
"Politics in Utah is a different brand than the rest of the country," Carpenter said. "Our community has different values. And tearing down your opponent is not one that has proven effective in the past."
In 2010, when Herbert ran for the remainder of Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s term after Huntsman became U.S. Ambassador to China, his Democratic opponent, then-Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, ran what was seen as a negative campaign.
Corroon raised questions about the connection between campaign contributions to the governor and the award of a state contract to rebuild part of I-15, including in hard-hitting TV commercials, but in the end lost by a significant margin.
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said ideally a challenger would start with positive ads to establish name recognition among voters before taking on an incumbent directly.
But he said challengers have little choice but to point out problems with an incumbent, even if that is seen as negative.
"If you just leave it to voters, they're generally going to go with the incumbent," Burbank said. "So you have to have that critical edge with any challengers. But it's a little unusual to start with that."