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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Following the Ad Money

There’s a fascinating new study of the most recent presidential campaign advertising expenditures by state, released today by an outfit called the Wisconsin Advertising Project (based at the University of Wisconsin in Madison).
The analysis covers advertising expenditures (not actual airings) during the week of September 28-October 4, and includes RNC buys, a major component of the McCain campaign’s effort. It doesn’t include ad spending by “independent” (i.e., 527) groups, but a separate part of the analysis suggests that such spending is significantly down from 2004, and isn’t a large factor in most battleground states at this point (the only striking 527 spending figure is $914,000 spent by the pro-McCain group Vets for Freedom in California).
Overall expenditures were $17.5 million for Obama and $11 million for McCain. That’s double the level of spending for the first week of September. Nearly all of McCain’s ads were negative, while only about a third of Obama’s ads were negative.
But the more interesting numbers are about where the two campaigns are targeting their paid media resources. In a number of the more obvious battleground states (OH, PA, CO, NM, NV, WI and MI, where McCain did one large ad buy before shifting resources out of the state), Obama’s overall 3-2 spending advantage was roughly reflected in state expenditures. But Obama outspent McCain by more than 2-1 in MO and NH, by more than 3-1 in FL, VA, and IN, and by well over 8-1 in NC. All told, in FL, VA, IN, and NC–all states that went for Bush by comfortable margins in 2004–Obama spent about $6.1 million last week, as compared to about $1.5 million for McCain.
The only two battleground states where McCain outspent Obama were IA (by about a 3-2 margin) and MN (a 5-1 margin), both Kerry states, albeit narrowly, in 2004. Obama’s been steadily in the lead in IA throughout the race, and has led in almost every poll of MN, though sometimes by small margins.
It’s obvious from these numbers that McCain is gambling that an improved national position (without which, of course, he’s going to lose in any event) will pull him across the line in places like VA, IN, NC, and perhaps even FL, without a major expenditure of money, while Obama is using his overall advantage to play aggressively in states won by Bush in 2004. Florida’s a particular dilemma for McCain: almost nobody thinks he can win without that state, but it’s a very expensive place to compete.
None of these figures, of course, include money spent for “ground game” registration and turnout efforts, and in “new media,” both areas where Obama is almost universally thought to have an advantage everywhere.
I realize this analysis is just a one-week snapshot that may not accurately convey the ultimate picture of the “ad wars” in the battleground states. But it does help illustrate the extent to which Obama is not only in the lead, but on the offensive. This matters, since early voting has already begun or is about to begin in many of these states, and undecided voters are beginning to focus and make up their minds.
And from a strategic point of view, it can’t be a good sign for McCain that he seems to be spending more money and time in Iowa, which he’s almost certainly already lost, than in NC, where he absolutely must win.

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