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Flaherty can't match Menino's big spending

Challenger may not have funds to campaign on TV

Above, Michael F. Flaherty spoke to Jose Moreno (right). Above, Michael F. Flaherty spoke to Jose Moreno (right). (Jim Davis/ Globe Staff)
By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / October 24, 2009

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Even with mayoral challenger Michael F. Flaherty Jr. predicting his strongest fund-raising month ever, his campaign presence over the next 10 days will still be dwarfed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s machine, which has more than three times as much cash on hand for the final stretch.

That means voters may hear from Flaherty on the radio in the coming 10 days, but their odds of seeing him at a T stop may be greater than seeing him on TV. Flaherty’s unofficial running mate, Sam Yoon, told the Globe this week that the campaign will not be airing TV ads, although spokeswoman Natasha Perez said the decision is not final. Perez acknowledged, however, that the campaign is focusing its resources on radio spots, which begin today. She would not specify the content.

A meaningful TV ad buy can cost $75,000 to $100,000 a week, a sum the Flaherty campaign could not likely afford when it is expecting to have only a quarter-million dollars for the home stretch and will need resources for the final get-out-the-vote operation for election day.

Menino, meanwhile, just launched a heavy TV media buy with a 30-second ad that touts the mayor’s tenure in general and a rotation of 15-second ads highlighting his record on four issues: education, environment, seniors, and innovation and job creation.

“We’ll do similar to the preliminary election as far as media buying in order to get the mayor’s message out,’’ said David A. Passafaro, campaign treasurer. Campaign finance records show the mayor spent nearly $300,000 in the final weeks of the preliminary campaign on TV and radio buys.

Mid-October campaign finance reports show that Menino had about $755,427 available to pay for the remainder of his race for a fifth term, while Flaherty had about $212,418. That includes the candidates’ savings but not contributions since Oct. 15, and Menino has continued to deposit money by the thousands almost daily, according to filings with the state. Flaherty, too, is picking up the pace in fund-raising, though in smaller amounts from fewer donors. Flaherty’s team is asking prior contributors who have not given the maximum to boost their donations and aims to raise $150,000 this month, said one person familiar with the strategy.

“We’re on target to raise our most this month that we’ve ever raised,’’ said Perez.

Perez said Flaherty’s radio ads will target communities of color, new Boston residents, and voters who didn’t show up for the preliminary election, when Menino claimed 50.5 percent of the vote. Flaherty won 24 percent to Yoon’s 21 percent. Flaherty hopes that his decision to join forces with Yoon will allow him to tap into Yoon’s liberal base.

By the start of October, Menino was on track to run the most expensive mayoral campaign in Boston history, having spent $1.7 million - the same he spent in 2005 - compared with Flaherty’s $1 million. Menino’s 2005 challenger, Councilor at Large Maura A. Hennigan, was able to make a modest TV ad buy, even though she spent less than $700,000 on the race.

“I think it’s important because in a campaign you can’t be everywhere and you’re running against an incumbent,’’ said Hennigan, who won 32 percent of the vote. “You have to try to do everything the incumbent’s doing - at least go toe to toe.’’

For Flaherty and Yoon, who are struggling to persuade voters to oust a familiar four-term mayor, the lack of a TV presence could further damage their standing, according to one political observer.

“It’s a disaster,’’ said Marc Landy, a Boston College professor of political science. “Having TV ads is just a sign of credibility. Already, they’re far behind, so credibility matters. They would advertise if they could afford it.’’

While TV ads would probably not generate a come-from-behind finish for Flaherty, Landy said, they would better establish the South Boston councilor as an alternative candidate.

Flaherty is continuing to hold fund-raisers through next week, including an event in Quincy with Norfolk County Sheriff Michael Bellotti. The Flaherty campaign is also arranging casual events aimed at getting small donors or potential supporters to meet-and-greet events. Yoon sent out automated calls to residents in progressive Jamaica Plain asking voters to join him, Flaherty, and onetime mayoral candidate Mel King at a party at Doyle’s Cafe, a political watering hole.

Menino will hold a fund-raiser Thursday at the Seaport Hotel aimed at lower-dollar donors.

Flaherty is also receiving campaign support from Boston Fire Fighters Local 718, which is grappling with the mayor over a longstanding contract dispute.

Menino, too, is enjoying ad support from the Patriot Majority, a political advocacy organization funded in part by a powerful union of health care workers, SEIU Local 1199.