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A real TV ad bombshell to drop on swing states

October 25, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


Forget Donald Trump’s fake game-changing announcement: The real bombshell in the 2012 presidential race is about to hit eight states over 12 days.

Because of the intensity of the campaign between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and the deep pockets of their supporters, local television stations have already seen record spending on campaigns ads.

But TV viewers haven’t seen the worst of it yet, at least in those eight states. For the other 42 states in our nation, it won’t be an issue.

Ad Week says as many as one-third of all Obama and Romney campaign ads haven’t even aired yet on television, and that tidal wave of attack ads will sweep over the swing states between now and November 6.

The Wesleyan Media Project tracks spending on all political ads, and it says TV ad spending is up a jaw-dropping 44 percent from the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, as of October 21.

Experts say more than $1 billion will be spent on political advertising this year.

The huge demand for ads will only get worse, as that gigantic flight of upcoming campaign ads hits the airwaves as the election concludes.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC case and the fundraising skills of the Obama and Romney teams, money isn’t an issue for the campaigns: It’s the availability of ad spots on local TV stations.

As of October 21, Wesleyan says the bulk of the ad spending was in just five areas: Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Ohio, and the Virginia/D.C. region. Considerable spending also remains in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

That’s left broadcasters having to find creative ways to get more ads on local TV by trimming the running times of shows, or even dropping entertainment shows to add more news broadcasts.

The Washington Post says the local Fox-owned and -operated station put reruns of The Simpsons on hiatus to add an extra 30 minutes of news (which usually includes about eight minutes of TV ads).

The Post says in a recent one-month period, Washington TV stations pocketed $58.6 million from campaign ads, compared with $9.8 million in 2008.

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So far, about 900,000 ads have aired for the entire election cycle nationally, with 23 percent airing since October 1.

Wesleyan’s analysis of data from Kantar Media/CMAG shows the extent of the ad blitz, and the likely intentions of the Obama and Romney camps when it comes to swing state strategies.

Mitt Romney and his supporters have spent more money than President Obama in five key swing states in October, but the Obama camp has run more TV ads.

In a statement, Wesleyan co-director Travis Ridout said it is because the Obama team is raising direct contributions, rather than relying on super PACs.

“One reason Obama has been able to win the air war in most media markets is that his campaign is funding most of its own advertising, which entitles his campaign to the lowest rate charged by local television stations. By contrast, many ads supporting Romney are paid for by outside groups, which must pay whatever the market will bear to get their ads on the air,” Ridout says.

The primary focus of the Obama campaign's TV strategy is in Nevada and Colorado, followed by Ohio and Florida, based on ad volume trends. In addition, four of the top 15 markets for TV ads are in Virginia. Wisconsin doesn’t have a place among the top 15 markets, but spending remains steady.

Obama has also run more ads than Romney in 13 of the top 15 markets.

North Carolina seems to be off the swing state map for TV ads, but there was about $10 million spent by the two campaigns there in three weeks.

There was little interest in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The Wesleyan research shows that Montana and Wisconsin are the two-most contested U.S. Senate races, by far.

The most-contested House race is between Republican Lee Anderson and Democrat John Barrow in Georgia’s redrawn 12th Congresssional District.

And when that political ad TV bombshell hits the eight swing states, expect most of the ads to be negative.

Only 11 percent of Mitt Romney’s ads in October have been positive, which is actually a lot better than Obama ads, which have been 94 percent negative, according to Wesleyan.

Obama’s campaign ads have been the most negative for a candidate in the past three elections, just ahead (or behind, depending on how you see it) of George W. Bush’s campaign in 2004.

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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