PORTLAND – Gubernatorial candidates have spent almost $1.7 million for political ads on southern Maine’s three primary televisions stations.

Less than a week from Tuesday’s primaries, viewers can rarely flip on WGME, WCSH or WMTW without seeing a Republican or a Democrat explaining why they should get your vote.

Democrats haven’t advertised on WGME, citing a labor dispute. But otherwise, Patrick McGowan, Elizabeth Mitchell, Steven Rowe and Rosa Scarcelli are on the airwaves, as are Republicans Steve Abbott, Matt Jacobson, Peter Mills, Paul LePage, Les Otten and Bruce Poliquin.

Missing from the Portland-market channels, at least as of Wednesday, was Republican Bill Beardsley.

The candidates in crowded primary fields are buying commercials as voters start to pay more attention to the races, said Michael Franz, professor of government at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. They are trying to make an impression on what most agree is a large population of undecided voters. In an independent poll released this week by Pan Atlantic SMS Group, 61.7 percent of Democrats said they were still undecided, and 47 percent of Republicans were undecided.

“Some candidates need to reintroduce themselves, or introduce themselves,” said Franz. “TV is probably the best way to do it.”

The spending in the Portland market is led by Otten, not surprisingly, at about $573,800 for the year. Otten actually began airing commercials last year.

He has spent $2.3 million on his campaign, according to reports filed May 28, has loaned his campaign roughly $2.2 million and has raised about $116,700.

Otten, a businessman without political experience, also has consistently led in name-recognition polls.

Otten’s spending on advertising may have prompted other candidates to increase their buys. “When a candidate has got a lot of money and a lot of resources, it sort of forces the other candidates to spend resources,” Franz said.

McGowan has spent $331,849, according to records kept at the three stations. McGowan and Mitchell are publicly funded candidates, and each has $600,000 for the primary.

Franz suggested that McGowan is spending a lot in the Portland market because he has a strong network in northern Maine. McGowan has run past campaigns in northern Maine, so he may be relying on greater name recognition there.

McGowan has been advertising around shows aimed primarily at women — ones that feature Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray or Dr. Phil, “The View” and soap operas, as well as some news programs.

Franz said candidates can carefully designate the sorts of viewers their ads will target. “It’s getting more strategic with every passing cycle,” he said. “Candidates, through their consultants, have great data on viewership demographics.”

Especially for a primary, a candidate may try to place ads in shows that may be more favored by people in their political party, Franz said.

Dan Cashman, president of Cashman Communications, is McGowan’s media consultant. He said McGowan is spending a significant amount of money in the Portland market, but also is spending in the Bangor and Presque Isle markets.

Portland is more expensive than the other two markets, Cashman noted, and buys in Bangor give a candidate a big bang for the buck. That’s because Bangor station WABI also airs in Augusta, and stations WLBZ and WVII also air in the Presque Isle market.

McGowan isn’t just targeting women, Cashman said. He has had some ad buys during the NBA playoffs and has a Red Sox buy coming up. One issue, said Cashman, is that many popular shows are in reruns or off the air until the fall.

One dependable buy is local news, said Cashman, which draws viewers who are interested in current events — like the primary. And, he said, viewers typically don’t record news and fast-forward past ads.

Most of the other candidates have clustered their ads around news, or game shows, with some variation.

Poliquin has spent $261,615 with the three Portland stations, mostly in April, May and June. He reported $737,765 in receipts, including $650,000 that he gave the campaign. He has spent $711,074, according to the latest financial reports.

Poliquin aired what has been the only so-called attack ad of the season, taking on Otten’s record as a businessman.

Scarcelli had spent $135,960 as of Wednesday, according to records at the three stations. Franz said he is surprised she hasn’t spent more, running against three relatively well-known candidates who have long histories in state government.

“I figured she’d be on TV at Les Otten levels,” Franz said.

He said candidates with little or no political experience, like Otten and Scarcelli, start with less name recognition and have to spend to compensate. Well-known candidates recognize that, said Franz, and may not feel they have to match the spending.

Mills is taking his second run for governor, and is regarded as having name recognition from the 2006 campaign and from his service as a state senator. He has spent $162,908 advertising in the Portland market. Mills is also a clean election candidate, with $600,000 for the primary.

Mitchell, the state Senate president, is seen as having a strong base in the Augusta area. She has spent $126,900 at the Portland market’s stations, hitting shows like “The Bachelorette,” “Ellen” and “The View,” as well as game shows and news.

Rowe is also well-known, having served as a state legislator, speaker of the House and attorney general. He has spent about $25,400 at Portland’s stations.

Abbott spent $62,975 in April, May and June. His campaign was boosted by ads run on WGME by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent about $11,100 on the buys just before the Republican State Convention.

Republicans Paul LePage and Matt Jacobson had spent $25,800 and $6,450 in the market, respectively, as of Wednesday.

Franz said Beardsley, who lives in Ellsworth and was president of Husson University in Bangor, may be targeting his ad buys at northern Maine, possibly going after a more conservative voter.

Southern Maine is seen as more liberal, so Beardsley, a social conservative, may see no value in advertising down here, Franz said.

According to his latest campaign finance reports, Beardsley has spent $81,481 at Bangor and Presque Isle stations.

Eliot Cutler, an independent who will be on the Nov. 2 general election ballot, has spent $37,400 on TV ads. And Shawn Moody, also running as an independent, has made a $10,620 media buy at WGME.

Most candidates are also embracing social media this year, using Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube to get their names and faces out to potential voters. But in the crowded primary fields, that’s no match for old-fashioned TV, said Ron Schmidt, chair of the political science department at the University of Southern Maine.

“More people still watch television than Tweet or look at Facebook,” Schmidt said.

And, he said, the candidates know that in the primaries they will be counting on voters who have strong connections to the political parties. Those voters tend to be older, said Schmidt, so TV and even radio works better than online media.

Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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