Since the beginning of February, the Democrats' presidential primary has slogged along week by week and state by state with bursts of intense ad spending and massive media attention. While all this has been going on, the John McCain campaign has been trying to infuse itself into the debate whenever possible.
Thus far, the ad spending related to the general election has been somewhat small and targeted. The question only time will answer is what markets will the massive ad dollars flow into. The McCain campaign has already started to quietly spend more than $1 million on ads in New Mexico, Oregon, Iowa, West Virginia and Ohio. His most recent ads promote his "leadership" on issues such as health care, mortgage relief and a gas tax holiday, while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton argue and fight. From the political left, groups such as the Democratic National Committee, Friends of the Earth, Progressive Media USA, SEIU and MoveOn.org have begun to approach $3 million in spending on national cable spots as well as in a several key battleground states.
If 2008 is a repeat of 2004, when pro-Kerry groups propelled the campaign to a more than $100 million ad-spending advantage over George Bush, then McCain will be heavily outgunned during the summer and fall.
It is also clear that Obama may not need much help from these groups considering what he has been able to raise on his own for just his primary campaign. The money that has been gathering on the sidelines for this campaign combined with the extended Democratic race will likely mean no slow build of ad messages and spending. It is likely that the flood gates of spending will be open soon. So now that we appear to have reached the end of the primary process, expect the ad wars to start off loud and stay that way until November.
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Evan Tracey is the founder and chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a TNS Media Intelligence company. See his complete bio.