For the first time, it won't only be the presence of political advertising or its negative nature that's the problem-it also will be the lack of political advertising.
Despite the more than $30 million spent last year alone by the top six Republican candidates and more spent this year to date as six sets of political ad strategists (see Page 36) work to create the imagery, the amount of advertising will be down not too long after Iowa Republicans caucus today and New Hampshire voters have their say on Feb. 20.
LESS TIME TO RAISE CASH
The "stacking" of primaries-70% of convention delegates will be selected by the end of March-means losers will drop out faster while winners won't have enough time to raise money to fully advertise in later states, say political observers and consultants.
"It is changing the way campaigns operate," said Karlyn Bowman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. "There is a lot of activity in a very concentrated period of time and the voting public will not have the sustained exposure."
Voter disenchantment is already high and more was starting to show through last week. An independent New Hampshire pollster and one working for Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar both said publisher Steve Forbes' heavy ad spending in the two states is producing a backlash.
"He may have peaked too early," said Dick Bennett, a pollster at American Research Group. "People want to know more about him. All the questions he won't answer."
Ms. Bowman said voter disenchantment would grow in later states with the unusually fast selection process-four years ago, 50% of delegates were selected through March-will give voters only a quick "glimpse" of candidates.
"It could present Republicans a problem if a candidate who hasn't been [fully] tested wins," she said.
After the nominee is chosen, "The press will be looking at all the warts."
Even if he is better known, the nominee's every statement would be minutely examined for months longer than in the past.
The compacting of the primaries is "one of the biggest disasters in the American presidential system," said David Doak, a Democratic political consultant who heads Doak, Carrier & Associates. He said the new system greatly favors frontrunners or those with money.
Mr. Doak noted that in 1976, Jimmy Carter had a month after his strong showing in the Iowa caucus to raise funds before the New Hampshire primary. This year, the New Hampshire primary follows the Iowa caucuses by eight days and primaries in states as big as New York have moved forward by more than a month.
"You get a nominee so quickly that the American people know nothing about him. He didn't have time to be vetted," Mr. Doak said.
Even the Republican National Committee admits concern and is forming a task force to study the issue.
"It might rob the voters of a deliberative process between primaries," said Mary Crawford, press secretary, Republican National Committee. "If horse `A' drops out, it doesn't leave much time to look at horse `B', `C' or `D."'
Even frontrunners and candidates who start with money suffer since they have a shortened time to raise funds for advertising in more states, Mr. Doak said.
"Because you eliminate so many candidates so quickly, you get less communication, less advertising," he said.
MORE EFFICIENT BUYS
The compacted primary system allows more efficient buys but puts a lot of additional pressure on raising funds, said Mark Lubbers, Sen. Lugar's campaign manager.
"Everybody is short of money. If you do well early, it could work if you are positioned to [quickly] drop direct mail, but if you are not Dole or Forbes, you are going to have to rely on earned media coverage, not paid media."
Mr. Doak said the shorter process may also put more pressure on candidates who are trailing to use their limited ad dollars to do negative ads to sway voters.
The brief time between primaries makes the current Iowa and New Hampshire races aberrations rather than examples of the rest of the election, said Bill Lacy, campaign strategist for Sen. Bob Dole.
"They are kind of set piece wars that are not likely to be repeated," he said. "Now you will be looking at five- to seven-day media bursts. It's more likely to be guerrilla wars that you are to be pounded by thousands of " gross ratings points.
Instead of running one ad talking about the candidate and another comparing him to a rival, the tendency will be to run one "comparative" ad, said Mr. Lacy.