Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ad spending, reports $960 million was spent in the top 100 markets as of the last week in October. By Election Day, the tally should reach $1 billion, a 50% increase from the $672 million laid out during the Presidential race in 2000-and the total doesn't include spending for some hot political races in states where media isn't closely tracked.
Political spending will help fuel an increase in total ad spending this year, predicted Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR President David Peeler. He said network TV has benefited most from the Olympics as well as higher outlays for automotive, entertainment and drug marketers. Political ads, he said, have been a big boon for spot TV and radio.
The torrid spending is a result of political party efforts to gain control of the divided U.S. Senate and big gubernatorial runoffs in major states including New York, Florida and California.
Much of the outlay went toward negative or attack advertising. While negative ads aren't unusual for candidates trying desperately to alter their standing near the end of a race, Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, said more of the attacks were personal this time.
"No one had a lot of room to attack on issues. There was a `me too' approach. They all are for education, lower taxes, prescription drugs, and not putting Social Security in the stock market. So instead you get, `Did they pay their taxes on their nannies?'; `Did they get stock from Enron?' It's coming from everybody now."
The Wisconsin Advertising Project, which tracks the content of advertising, reports that campaign advertising has resumed its negative direction after a short break following Sept. 11. In October, the project reported that 35% of candidate ads, 72% of political party ads and 36% of independent committee ads were negative with the most mud-slinging coming from New Jersey (where Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli, under heavy attack, eventually withdrew.)
Mr. Tracey said some of the spending also came from groups trying to influence Congress on individual issues and wasn't specifically election-related.
In Minnesota the death of Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone translated into a surrealistic situation in which a heavy schedule of the candidate's political ads vanished abruptly for five days (Walt Disney Co.'s ABC affiliate KSTP said half its ads for the period from Oct. 25 through Oct. 29 disappeared). But the ads returned with a vengeance as spots for former Vice President Walter Mondale got shoehorned into the remaining days of the campaign.
"This was one of most targeted states in the country," said Trey Fabacher, general sales manager of KSTP in St. Paul. "More money was being spent than years ago when this was a Presidential swing state. When the news came out, everybody pulled their political ads and went dark. Now they're back in full force."
Tim Leaf, sales manager for Viacom's CBS affiliate WCCO in Minneapolis said his station ended up having to allocate ads to see that the candidates for not only the Senate but other positions got equal chances to air spots. "We balanced it out to make sure it was equal," he said, adding that almost all of the political advertisers who pulled their schedule temporarily wanted to spend it in the last days of the campaign.
The changes in Minnesota forced Democrats to scramble. Mandy Grunwald, whose Grunwald Communications, Washington, had been handling Sen. Wellstone's race, produced Mr. Mondale's ads. Lee Lynch, a founder of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Carmichael Lynch and a longtime friend of Mr. Mondale, said he offered to help do the ads, but there wasn't time.