Early Presidential Primary States Not Seeing Big Advertising Dollars

Lot of 'Tire Kicking,' But Deluge of Debates and Drama Allow Candidates to Hold Back

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Rick Perry
Rick Perry

Records are expected to be broken when it comes to spending in the 2012 presidential campaign, but TV stations in early primary states aren't seeing a major cash infusion just yet.

Allen Wiese, general sales manager for Davenport, Iowa's KWQC-TV, hasn't had a single advertising buy yet from any candidate, although several campaigns have contacted him for rate information.

"There has been a lot of tire kicking, but there's no action yet," Mr. Wiese said.

At this point in the last presidential race, at least $8 million had been spent on advertising. This time, only a fraction of that amount -- less than $2 million -- has been spent.

Mr. Wiese said he expects political advertising in Iowa to pick up after Saturday , Nov. 19. Federal law requires broadcasters and cable companies to offer the "lowest unit charge" to federal candidates in the 45 days before a primary and during the 60 days before a general election. Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucus is scheduled for Jan. 3.

Mr. Wiese, meanwhile, sees a silver lining in the situation.

"My local advertisers are happy they're not getting kicked off the air like they were four years ago," he said.

But Ray Cole, president of Citadel Communications, is disappointed in the pace of the ad buys, even though his four stations broadcasting in Iowa have received some advertising from the campaigns of Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

"We're well behind the political cycle four years ago," Mr. Cole said. "At this point, Mitt Romney had already spent $10 million in Iowa."

Ken Goldstein, executive director of the Campaign Media Advertising Group, said the frequency of Republican candidate debates -- more than 10 so far -- helped slow down a rollout of campaign ads because the candidates felt they had direct access to voters.

Dramatic stumbles and controversies, including Mr. Perry's "brain freeze" during a debate and allegations of sexual harassment against Herman Cain, also prompted GOP candidates such as Mitt Romney to sit back and let YouTube and media coverage beat up their rivals.

"Every day that 's taken up with debates and drama is one day less of advertising," Mr. Goldstein said.

Another factor suppressing campaign spending is that , unlike the 2007-2008 campaign, when Barack Obama was in a vicious battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, there is no contest in that party now.

But Mr. Goldstein maintains spending will eventually speed up.

"When all is said and done, there's going to be a lot of money spent on advertising in 2012," he said.

Although ad buys by GOP candidates and independent groups in primary states have been sparse, some ads are running.

After his debate gaffe, Mr. Perry spent $975,000 on national ads airing on Fox News. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is benefiting from $750,000 worth of ads running in New Hampshire sponsored by Our Destiny, a political action committee backed by his father. Mr. Cain is running ads on cable in Iowa asking for donations to his campaign, and Mr. Paul is running ads in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The Democratic National Committee has also released ads touting Obama's job plan in Iowa and New Hampshire, while Republican strategist Karl Rove's Crossroads super PAC is funding ads attacking the president in those states.

Jeff Bartlett, general manager of New Hampshire's WMUR-TV, said it's too early to tell if the slow pace of advertising will hurt primary-state advertisers.

"Every primary season has a different rhythm to it," he said. "There's a possibility they'll catch up in December."

If so, candidates will have to decide whether they'll want to continue to air attack ads during the holidays.

Mr. Bartlett said some candidates may turn to positive ads in late December or incorporate the holidays in their pitches, like Mr. Paul did by posing with a Christmas tree four years ago.

"They have to get their message across, regardless of the holidays," Mr. Bartlett said.

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