Pols' Race to $1.6 Billion Crunches TV Market

Midterm Spending Spree Could Cause Price Hikes, Squeeze Out Advertisers

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With some analysts predicting that 2006 political spending will climb as high as $1.6 billion-approaching the record set in 2004-there could be a new sticker on TV ad space in the coming weeks: Not in Stock.

Competitive races and ballot measures are fueling spending that, especially in Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Rhode Island and Connecticut, could exceed advertising inventory and force other local marketers off the air.

"We see more races on the air earlier, more groups engaging. It looks like the last 30 days and we are still 60 days out," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Nick Ulmer, general sales manager for Louisville, Ky., NBC affiliate WAVE-TV, said the station has already had to preempt some regular advertising fit in all the political ads for some hot congressional races as well as a mayoral race and two circuit-judge races. And problems could increase as Election Day (Nov. 7) approaches.

"The market is tight," Mr. Ulmer said, adding that as much as 45% of the station's October advertising inventory may be political ads.

Mr. Tracey said the problems could be especially intense this year as 36 gubernatorial races and other state-office races get added to an intense battle between Democrats and Republicans for control of the Senate and House. He said in some states the problems likely will be statewide. In other markets, specific regions will be far more affected. He cited TV stations in upstate New York; Des Moines, Iowa; Louisville and Paducah, Ky.; and South Bend, Ind.

Democrats and Republicans both say President George W. Bush's poll numbers, combined with public unhappiness about the Iraq war, gas prices and local issues, are making this year's Congressional races more competitive and harder fought, with Republicans digging in to maintain control and Democrats waging an all-out battle to win more seats.

'Playing offense'

"It's more competitive in more states," said Phil Singer, communications director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "We are playing offense and taking aggressive steps to bring our message to the voters." He said the Democratic Party committee challenged one Senate incumbent in 2004 and is challenging eight this time.

Brian Nick, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Republicans are also spending more and doing more. "We are spending more money overall on races than last cycle," said Mr. Nick, though he declined to provide details on spending.

Some of the additional money is going toward websites. The party has used the Bivins Group to create sites that attack Democratic Reps. Sharrod Brown (faroutbrown.com) in Ohio and Harold E. Ford Jr. (fancyford.com) in Tennessee in their races for Senate posts. Both politicians are attempting to jump from the House to the Senate.

Still, the bulk of the money is going toward TV ads.

Mr. Tracey had originally predicted spending could reach $1.4 billion this election cycle, potentially topping the $1.7 billion spent in 2004, a presidential election year. But at the Television Bureau of Advertising in New York last week, he revised the total to $1.6 billion.

"The likelihood of us going past 2004 is high," he said.
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