As the 2012 presidential election kicks into high gear, publicly available numbers on TV campaign ads show that two big battleground states are out of the picture for ad spending, and three states are the primary focus of campaign ads.
The bottom line: Virginia has become as big as Florida and Ohio when it comes to battleground states.
Also lurking as difference makers are Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina.
Changes allowed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling allow Super PACs and other groups to fund unlimited TV ads. In addition, the GOP and Democrats have raised large stockpiles of campaign cash.
The influx of cash is welcome news to local TV stations that need the money to supplement other volatile ad sources, like ads from makers of automobiles and consumer goods.
So when TV markets don’t see advertising dollars appear of their doorsteps, it can be a crippling blow—and a key indicator of where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney (and their surrogates) have defined the list of final battleground states.
Pennsylvania and Michigan have seemingly dropped off the radar as markets getting any TV political ad spending. Wisconsin also seems to be fading, as a place where campaigns are spending money.
On the Washington Post’s “Mad Money” web site, which tracks weekly TV spending, Philadelphia and Detroit saw $0 in money for the week of September 1 to September 9, the same period where dual political conventions raised awareness of both parties.
The total for the following week for Philly and the Motor City was $0.
The hottest markets for TV spending for the past two weeks continued to be Virginia and Nevada.
Spending in Washington, D.C., which broadcasts to northern Virginia, is outpacing the money flow to the two biggest swing states: Florida and Ohio.
For the week of September 10 to September 16, political groups spent $2.1 in Washington, D.C. on TV ads, which is as much as Orlando and Tampa combined.
Campaigns also spent another $1.2 million in Las Vegas, which was slightly more than Orlando and Tampa, and about equal to Cleveland. Denver also saw more money than Florida, with $1.4 million in local TV ads.
Another $1 million was funneled into southern Virginia, while North Carolina and Iowa saw significant spending.
The takeaway from the TV ad numbers is that Virginia is now the life-or-death battleground for the presidential campaign, and it also has an important U.S. Senate race featuring Tim Kaine and George Allen.
The combined spending in Washington and southern Virginia is now about equal to Florida and Ohio.
The Virginian-Pilot says Hampton Roads, Virginia saw 640 campaign ads in late August and early September, which was not only tops in the state, but in the nation.
In TV talk, Hampton Roads is part of DMA 42, a broadcast region that includes Norfolk and Newport News. So it is the 42nd largest TV market in the country.
A two-part profile from NPR, using an exclusive TV ad analysis, shows four smaller areas that have received huge influxes of cash for ads.
Richmond has seen ad spending jump from $800,000 in 2008 to $8 million in 2012. Other markets targeted by the campaigns include Dayton, Cedar Rapids and Colorado Springs.
In the Quad-Cities area of Iowa and Illinois, one local newspaper estimates the campaigns have spent about $20 per person on TV ads just in Iowa, as of early September.
But in Quad-Cities, which has about 384,000 people, the number is closer to $25 per voter as some Super PACs sympathetic to the GOP have flooded the market with ads.
Scott Bomboy is the Editor-in-Chief of the National Constitution Center.
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