The reality of this race is that Mr. Obama is in control. His nationwide buys have been climbing a systematic 20% a week since the beginning of September, while Mr. McCain's have flatlined. The Arizona senator's strategy was to devote the lion's share of his early ad resources to the established battleground states and some to Obama-leaning states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. His hope was to translate those buys into early leads that would have given his campaign a fighting chance against the looming Obama ad onslaught.
Unfortunately for Mr. McCain, Mr. Obama successfully expanded the battleground into red states. The McCain campaign and the RNC are now spending ad dollars in three states -- Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana -- and they expected to win with some ease. While the McCain campaign is playing defense with valuable resources, the Obama camp is spending more and more money on ads in some of the key media markets in states such as Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Mr. Obama has spent a staggering $97 million since June while Mr. McCain, with the RNC, has spent a respectable $76 million. The Obama campaign upped its daily spending to more than $2.8 million, almost double what the McCain team spends daily now. It appears that Mr. McCain is trying to conserve his resources now so that his buys can remain competitive in the last two weeks of this race. As we have seen in past campaigns, you can lose races in September by overspending, but you can rarely win the election in September. Mr. McCain's challenge now will be to stay close enough to Mr. Obama in the polls so that when the race comes to a close he is not too far behind. For Mr. Obama, the strategy is simple: Stay on the offense on issues like health care and the economy, and turn up the volume so loud that the McCain campaign cannot be heard.
There are still cards to play in this election, but the end game is now unfolding and the battleground is providing the McCain campaign with less and less room for error, while team Obama is putting its war chest to work buying up media wherever he chooses.
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Evan Tracey is the founder and president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, a TNS Media Intelligence company. See his complete bio.