Campaign ad spending has topped $1 million a day, and candidate spending exceeded one analyst's $30 million projection for the entire Democratic race even before this week's first primary in New Hampshire. But station executives are hoping for far more.
They see the upset victories by Massachusetts Sen. Kerry and North Carolina Sen. Edwards over former favorite Howard Dean as likely to increase spending dramatically as the campaigns go longer and move to larger states.
"When we budgeted last year we expected there would be some advertising," said Jim Rini, general sales manager of WEWS-TV, Cleveland's ABC affiliate. "When we heard Howard Dean could run away with it, it put a little scare in us. "
Jeff Block, general manager of KTVU, the Fox station in San Francisco, said he now believes his market will pick up money for the California primary. "Had this been a runaway we would have gotten no one," he said. "Two or three weeks ago, we were getting nervous. Then all of a sudden [as last-minute polls came out] I became more optimistic.
Political-advertising analysts agree with the station executives, though they caution that what happens depends on how well candidates do in New Hampshire and how quickly they can raise money.
Many had expected the Democratic race to be essentially wrapped up as soon as Feb. 3-when Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina hold primaries and New Mexico and North Dakota caucuses. But they now believe it could last much longer.
If, after primaries and caucuses in Michigan and Washington on Feb. 7, Virginia and Tennessee Feb. 10 and Wisconsin Feb. 17, things still aren't decided, the next step is the Super Bowl of the Democratic delegate-selection process March 2, appropriately nicknamed Super Tuesday.
On that day, 33% of Democratic convention delegates will be chosen as California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont hold primaries and Minnesota holds a caucus. A week later Florida and Louisiana hold primaries.
"Iowa is a cheap state to advertise. It doesn't even have one top 50 market," said Ken Goldstein, a professor of the University of Wisconsin who tracks political advertising. "If you are talking about airing the same number of spots in New York, California and Texas, it will significantly increase the advertising spending."
Mr. Goldstein said how much is spent ultimately depends on how tight the race remains. "The longer the race goes on, the more the advertising," he said. "Clearly if Howard Dean had romped in Iowa and taken the Feb. 3 states, then it might have gone on, but other candidates probably wouldn't have had the money to do advertising."
Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSMI's Campaign Media Analysis Group, who made the original $30 million prediction before Dr. Dean's campaign began raising funds last year, now believes spending could easily reach $40 million to $45 million.
In addition to the candidate outlays, various interest groups are believed to have spent another $10 million.
Both Dr. Dean and Sen. Kerry rejected federal matching funds and as a result aren't bound by curbs on primary spending and could start their advertising for the fall election immediately after nomination is assured. Their rivals, including Sen. Edwards, accepted federal money and would face limits on ad spending until they were formally nominated by the Democratic National Convention in Boston July 26-29.