The heated race to become the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor is taking an unusual turn as incumbent Mike Stack and challenger Nina Ahmad begin hitting the airwaves in the Philadelphia region.

A third candidate, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, told City&State PA that his campaign will pour as much as $200,000 into media markets in Western and Northeast Pennsylvania.

“We’ll be putting in about $150,000 to $200,000 to start, before the end of the week,” Fetterman said.

Combined, the three campaigns will drop nearly $1 million into television ads across the state, including $500,000 from Ahmad and $300,000 from Stack. 

Stack’s campaign also said they would be investing more to take their message across the state as the May 15 primary draws closer.

The ramp-up is an indicator that the stakes are getting higher in the statewide contest, which has frequently been an afterthought in previous elections. Pennsylvania, unlike many states, elects lieutenant governors separately from governors.

Stack spokesman Marty Marks, who had served on the lieutenant governor’s previous campaign, said that he did not anticipate spending more on ads than in that race. But he said it was unusual to see similar spending across a crowded primary field.

“I don’t know that anyone had TV besides us in that election,” he said.

A series of 2017 scandals surrounding Stack seemingly drove a number of well-funded Democratic campaigns to challenge the incumbent. Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone and MontCo businessman Ray Sosa are also running.

Fetterman said that the ability of candidates to self-fund was a big factor in allowing more campaigns to hit the airwaves. Ahmad, a former biochemist and deputy mayor under Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney who had initially sought to unseat U.S. Congressman Bob Brady, has committed nearly $450,000 worth of her own money to her campaign, for example.

Fetterman added that the timing of the race could also be driving higher spending than previous years as candidates competed for voters’ attention.

“There’s no more people running than in some prior years. But everyone is just paying more attention to politics these days, partially due to the Trump effect,” he said.

Both Ahmad and Stack have ads focused on their support for gun control. 

Ahmad’s focuses on her upbringing during a violent period in her native Bangladesh.

“Her first TV ad (is) focusing on her compelling personal story and how it has informed her activism on behalf of women as well as her plan to help ban assault rifles in Pennsylvania,” said campaign spokesperson Vince Rongione.

Stack’s spot proudly touts his F rating by the National Rifle Association and his military service as a national guardsman. 

Both ads appear intended to capitalize on increased interest in the Philadelphia region for limiting access to certain firearms and accessories in the wake of the Parkland school shooting.

The lieutenant governor has few official duties and little direct sway over statewide gun laws, but Marks argued that Stack had been able to shape policy in his position.

“You spend all day when the Senate is in session with legislators,” Marks said. “In addition, you have the credibility on the issues that Stack brings due to his background in the military and experience as a state senator.”

On the Republican side, five candidates are vying for the spot. But Jeff Bartos, who has been loudly endorsed by gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, is the only candidate to have run TV spots to date.