All four major candidates in Kentucky's U.S. Senate race are on the air with television ads 75 days before the May 18 primary, but only those who watch carefully will see the Democrats' spots.
Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway have bought just a handful of 30-second time slots this week. Republicans Rand Paul and Trey Grayson, on the other hand, have blanketed the airwaves with large ad buys, particularly in Lexington, which reaches key concentrations of GOP primary voters in Central and southern Kentucky.
Paul's campaign bought 72 ads on WKYT-TV from March 1 to 18 and has purchased air time from April 5 through the May 18 election, according to the public ad file at WKYT.
Grayson spent $77,000 in the Lexington market this week and has 54 ads airing on WKYT during much of its programming, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Late Night With David Letterman and prime-time CBS shows.
In contrast, Mongiardo's campaign spent a total of $2,571 in Lexington to air his first ad Thursday and Friday. The ad will air twice on WKYT — once during each day's 5 p.m. newscast.
Mongiardo campaign spokesman Kim Geveden acknowledged that "it's a small buy," even compared to Conway, who purchased five spots on WKYT.
"Jack Conway has the money. Daniel Mongiardo has the people," Geveden said. "That's what the race is going to come down to: money versus people."
Mongiardo's ad, the first of his campaign, focuses on his efforts to protest Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning's stand earlier this week against an extension of unemployment benefits. Mongiardo narrowly lost to Bunning in the 2004 Senate race.
"When Jim Bunning blocked unemployment benefits for 120,000 Kentuckians, Daniel took on Bunning again. Called Bunning's actions a disgrace. Led rallies in Louisville and Lexington," the ad says.
Geveden said the campaign hadn't planned to air a commercial so early but put it together after Conway aired his first commercial that also blasted Bunning, who is not seeking re-election.
Conway talks directly to the camera and strikes a populist tone, criticizing Bunning for taking a stance that harms unemployed Kentuckians while touting his work as attorney general to take on oil companies.
The Mongiardo and Conway campaigns essentially agree in their criticism of Bunning, which they air in the ads, but off-camera the campaigns have clashed over style.
"To lead, sometimes you have to enter the battle, get in the fray ... even if it's a cold blustery day like Tuesday was," Geveden said of Mongiardo's rallies. "You can't lead from the comfort and warmth of a TV studio in Washington."
Conway traveled to Washington, D.C., this week on attorney general business, where he also made media appearances and filmed the ad.
Allison Haley, spokeswoman for Conway's campaign, said she was perplexed that Mongiardo's camp could criticize Conway for going on official business and taking "five minutes off to do a radio interview criticizing Jim Bunning" while Mongiardo, as lieutenant governor, spent much of a day attending rallies and "then trying to raise money on the back of it."
Meanwhile, the current ads for the Republicans are more traditional spots for early in a campaign.
Paul's latest 30-second ad says he lives Kentuckians' values and will take on those in Washington who spend too much. Grayson launched his first widespread TV ad Wednesday, touting his efforts to cut spending as Kentucky's secretary of state.