It appears northwest Ohio television viewers will see a record number of campaign ads this fall.
But for the next two and a half weeks, they won't see Ken Blackwell.
The Republican candidate for governor has dropped off Toledo airwaves until Oct. 30, records show, a move strategists from both parties say complicates his efforts to erase Democrat Ted Strickland's double-digit lead in the polls.
Pardon viewers if they don't notice.
Candidates and committees spent or reserved nearly $8.7 million worth of ads on Toledo networks and cable from September through Election Day - a total several station executives say already beats the super-saturated 2004 presidential election and makes 2006 the most expensive political cycle in the region's history.
"It's never been like this before," said Mary Gerken, director of sales at WTVG-TV, Channel 13, which has booked nearly $3.4 million in campaign ads post-Labor Day, second only to WTOL-TV, Channel 11. "It's unbelievable."
Leading the blitz is Ohio's dead-heat U.S. Senate race.
Incumbent Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, Democratic challenger Sherrod Brown, and party committees backing both candidates have combined for nearly $3 million in ad buys. The Republican side leads in spending, $1.7 million to $1.3 million.
Viewers also are seeing a lot about scholarships and slot machines. Supporters of Issue 3, which would legalize some slots gambling and designate part of the proceeds for college students, have dropped more than $1.3 million on advertising with Toledo stations. Opponents are chipping in $100,000.
Backers of competing statewide smoking bans have booked nearly $325,000 combined.
There is one Republican gubernatorial candidate on the air right now: Dick DeVos of Michigan, who has launched a $400,000 appeal to suburban residents across the state line. His opponent, incumbent Democrat Jennifer Granholm, hasn't bought any time here.
In the Ohio governor's race, Mr. Strickland - who has opened a multimillion-dollar fund-raising advantage - is outspending Mr. Blackwell by about $1.1 million versus $500,000 here.
Even including third-party groups that support Mr. Blackwell, Mr. Strickland's spending is nearly double.
A Blackwell spokesman, Carlo LoParo, said the secretary of state already has spent heavily on television and is happy to let Mr. Strickland "say nothing" in his uncontested advertisements for a few weeks.
A Strickland spokesman, Keith Dailey, called that comment "pretty laughable."
Mr. Blackwell will return to Toledo television with a final-week, $250,000 barrage that is bigger than any other candidate's.
The bulk of both parties' statewide tickets also are saving their cash for the closing days, a strategy consultants say risks missing a wave of early voters taking advantage of Ohio's newly relaxed absentee-ballot rules.
Mr. Blackwell in particular faces a "tall order" catching Mr. Strickland without constant ads, said Mark Weaver, a consultant to Republican attorney general candidate Betty Montgomery, who is doubling Democrat Marc Dann's ad spending through Election Day.
"In the past, throwing a lot of money at television in the last two weeks worked," Mr. Weaver said. "That may not be the case this year The amount of clutter is unprecedented."
Several local candidates and issue committees will compete for attention in the final weeks.
Democratic county commissioner candidate Ben Konop has reserved more than $60,000. Democratic auditor candidate Anita Lopez has reserved $50,000. Their GOP opponents, George Sarantou and Larry Kaczala, respectively, have no time reserved.
Two Toledo City Council candidates have slotted time: Democrats Lourdes Santiago ($30,000) and Joe McNamara ($40,000).
Backers of a COSI levy have $30,000 on the books for ad purchases; zoo levy supporters have nearly $75,000.
In a year when statewide races are overshadowing local ones, television ads can put a down-ticket candidate over the top, said B.J. Fischer, a consultant for both levies, Ms. Santiago, and Ms. Lopez.
"The candidate who is on TV and has the playing field to himself ... has a major advantage," Mr. Fischer said.
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