Capitulating to his dwindling campaign treasury, Republican Senate candidate Tom Campbell pulled his television advertising Tuesday and in the closing days of the primary race will rely on Internet appeals and telephone calls to make his case to GOP voters.
The move creates an enormous hurdle for the former congressman at a time when his chief rival, Carly Fiorina, has loaned several million dollars to her campaign and, on the strength of a generous round of TV ads, has shot ahead in what was once a close contest to replace Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Fiorina, the former head of Hewlett-Packard Co., was leading Campbell, 38% to 23%, in a Los Angeles Times/USC poll released Sunday. State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore of Irvine was trailing in third place.
Larry Gerston, a professor of political science at San Jose State, called Campbell's decision to yank his ads "as close as you get to the white flag of surrender."
Campbell had been running some ads highlighting his fiscal conservatism, but the poll showed that three times as many voters had seen Fiorina's spots. His campaign spokesman said the campaign is making decisions "day to day" and that, for now, Tuesday was Campbell's last day on the air.
"We don't have the money that Carly has," said Campbell's spokesman Jamie Fisfis, who said statewide ads were a wasteful purchase given the campaign's financial straits. "They may have the luxury of dealing with the waste of network television, but we have to be much more efficient."
Though Campbell raised more money than Fiorina in the period between April 1 and May 19, Fiorina has loaned her campaign an additional $3 million in the last few weeks — bringing her personal contributions to at least $5.5 million. In reports filed last week, Fiorina had $2.1 million on hand, while Campbell had roughly $400,000. A statewide television buy costs upward of $2 million.
Money woes have been a hallmark of Campbell's campaigns, including two earlier unsuccessful runs for Senate. He originally set out to run for governor this year, but switched to the Senate race when he found it difficult to compete financially with two wealthy candidates.
He held few public events in April and early May and kept his primary focus on fundraising, but his precarious financial position was apparent in the most recent round of campaign finance reports.
"Some people have the luxury of laying low, for whatever reason. He doesn't have that luxury," Gerston said. "Even with the Internet, television remains the dominant venue for people making up their minds, particularly late in the campaign.... If there is no ad, there's no response to Carly Fiorina."
As Gerston indicated, the pulling of campaign ads often has been a public signal of a campaign's acceptance of defeat. In the 1994 governor's race, Democrat Kathleen Brown took down her ads on the final weekend of the general election when it became obvious to her that spending more money would not vault her ahead of Republican Pete Wilson.
But Jon A. Krosnick, professor of communication, political science and psychology at Stanford University, said it may be "a shrewd move" for the Campbell campaign to use precious resources on other efforts to reach voters.
With so many negative ads on the air, he said, "you can make very compelling arguments in favor of pulling the ad money."
Campbell told reporters Tuesday that he would be using media interviews and his network of supporters to highlight his bright spot in the poll — that he is the only Republican candidate beating Boxer in a hypothetical matchup.
The campaign also plans to target likely Republican voters with automated calls Thursday offering a live telephone question-and-answer session with the candidate.