With over $131 million spent on TV thus far by candidates and groups, it's now a question of how much gas is left in the tank.
On the Democratic side, it's clear that Senators Clinton and Obama have the wind at their backs. Both campaigns are nearing the $20 million mark each in ad spending with the majority focused on the early voting states. However, with no knockout blows, they are now both extending there buys into the Feb. 5 states. The Obama campaign struck first with targeted buys in Arizona, California and Tennessee. And now it appears the Clinton campaign is striking out into at least 10 Feb. 5 states. It would appear that a protracted ad war is in the making.
On the Republican side you have almost the exact opposite. In fact, it appears to be the political equivalent of the game Whack-A-Mole. No campaign seems to have any sustainable momentum. Every week, someone new is up and someone else is down in the polls. Governor Romney leads all ad spenders with close to $30 million in TV ads in the early states. Yet the only campaign to venture into Feb. 5 states with media buys is Rudy Giuliani, who has been buying a few Fox Network and Fox Cable News ads that reach the entire country. From here the campaigns are faced with a day-to-day, week-to-week media plan. For the GOP, positive earned media may be all they have to carry the momentum and message into Feb. 5. In other words, planning will be a difficult task.
There are some very significant X-factors to keep an eye on for both parties. For the Democrats, the main thing to watch will be the role of interest groups. Thus far, groups have been far more active in the Democratic race than the Republican race. If a group wanted to place a major ad buy with a negative message in a key media market in a state such as Florida, California or Arizona it might be very hard for the targeted candidate to respond. The second factor is how deep the campaigns will go into Feb. 5 states with spending -- and whether one of the front runners will leave the rest of the pack behind.
On the Republican side, the X-factor is simply Mitt Romney's money and his message. We know the money is there, but the message has been questionable. Yet, with the win in Michigan (albeit a home game) under his belt, the tanking economy could help him the same way an improving Iraq helped John McCain in later part of 2007. If Romney chooses, he could fund a significant national ad buy that could propel his campaign way beyond what his remaining rivals could spend combined.
Finally, keep and eye on what else is on the ballots in the remaining states. So far, millions are being spent on ad buys in a number of states on Senate and House primaries and ballot measures with significant local impact such as gaming expansion and term limits in California.
The keys to victory come down to the 3 M's: Motivation of supporters; Momentum from wins; and Money for ads.
~ ~ ~
Evan Tracey is the founder and chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a TNS Media Intelligence company. See his complete bio.