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Cardon denies advertising blackout, but still not buying airtime

U.S. Senate candidate Wil Cardon (Photo from Twitter account)

U.S. Senate candidate Wil Cardon says he plans to air a new television ad, but his campaign hasn’t bought any network TV airtime since the end of July.

As of late this afternoon, Cardon hadn’t made any network purchases for the ad, which he touted to deny reports that his campaign was winding down.

The five biggest networks in the Phoenix metro area say Cardon’s last ad buy ended on July 30, just days before early ballots were sent out for the Aug. 28 primary against Congressman Jeff Flake. And the networks say Cardon has not yet bought any new airtime, leaving a gaping hole in his advertising and reinforcing the notion that he has effectively ended his self-funded campaign.

Cardon’s only purchase in recent days was for $10,000 in cable airtime – for an ad that will run through Aug. 12 – a paltry amount compared to the millions he’s spent in the past five months.

The slow-down comes at the end of a five-month period in which Cardon spent about $4 million of his own money on advertising. The Mesa businessman’s campaign has spent about $7.5 million total on Cardon’s bid to upset frontrunner Flake for the Republican nomination. Cardon opened his campaign last year with a pledge that he would not be outspent.

But with polls consistently showing Flake ahead by double digits, and with outside groups such as the Club for Growth attacking Cardon on Flake’s behalf, Cardon appears to have severely ratcheted down his spending. The week before early ballots went out, Cardon spent about $311,000 on television advertising, according to sources that are tracking media buys.

Cardon spokeswoman Alyssa Pivirotto said the campaign plans to buy new airtime. The campaign filed paperwork with Cox Media on Aug. 9 inquiring about statewide advertising rates, though it did not say when it hoped to buy airtime. Cardon has advertised extensively with Cox throughout his campaign.

Flake, meanwhile, purchased $1.4 million in network airtime in early July, enough to keep his ads on the air until Election Day.

Chuck Coughlin, a Republican campaign consultant, said Cardon’s decision to stop his advertising is essentially an acknowledgement that the race is over. He said he expects Cardon to go back on the air and to re-tool his message. But the polling has all been bad for Cardon, and attack ads by the Club for Growth that “distorted” his record, have “probably crippled his chances of winning,” Coughlin said.

“It’s been opined that they’re recognizing a reality that is taking place in the race,” said Coughlin, the president of the consulting and lobbying firm HighGround. “They’re re-messaging for the last part of the campaign. They intend to finish. They’re probably hoping for a good outcome but are acknowledging the realities of the situation as the polling numbers have across the board indicated.”

A July poll by Colorado-based Magellan Strategies showed Flake ahead by 22 points.

Cardon could buy new airtime any day, but the decision to go dark means he’s already missed a huge opportunity to reach out to early voters.

The network advertising blackout came just before early ballots went out, which many consultants say is the most important time to be on the air. Maricopa County sent out about 435,000 Republican ballots on Aug. 2, and more than 48,000 have already been returned. Election officials across the state say as much as 75 percent of the votes cast in the primary will be by mail.

Pivirotto denied that the campaign was folding or winding down, but would not say why Cardon pulled his ads from network television during one of the most crucial weeks of the campaign.

“With just three weeks until the Arizona Republican primary, Wil Cardon is outworking every candidate in the U.S. Senate race. He continues to tirelessly travel the state talking with Arizonans, attend as many candidate forums as humanly possible and reach out to voters over the phone and even visit their homes. Wil is not slowing down and neither is his campaign. While we would never reveal campaign strategy for the next three weeks, rest assured, Wil Cardon is in this race to win it,” Pivirotto said.

The day after the advertising issue was first reported, Cardon was back in the studio shooting a new television ad. But the campaign declined to say how big of a media buy he was making, or whether the ad would air on network television or just on cable, which has far fewer viewers.

“We’ve never released the specifics of our ad buys. This latest buy will be no exception. We’d prefer not to discuss our media strategy in advance,” Pivirotto said.

The reluctance to discuss media buys is a stark departure for the Cardon campaign, which historically had been very open about discussing the amount of money Cardon was spending on advertising.

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