With Keystone State Now a Key State, Spend Soars

Candidates Shell Out as Much as $25 Million in Pennsylvania Primary

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- The Democratic primary was supposed to be over by now, with Pennsylvania voters casting ballots in a decided race and media outlets lucky to get even the scraps of primary season. Instead, the Keystone State could see as much as $25 million in spending as Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama engage in the first drawn-out negative-ad battles of election '08.
Hillary Clinton's campaign last week called Obama's spending 'earth-shattering, record-breaking, eye-popping.'
Hillary Clinton's campaign last week called Obama's spending 'earth-shattering, record-breaking, eye-popping.' Credit: Robin Beck

With Ms. Clinton trying to save her political life and Mr. Obama trying to seal the deal once and for all, both candidates have been aggressively upping the ante in ad buys. As of early last week, nearly $21 million had been spent in the state -- nearly $18 million on advertising, most of it on broadcast ads, according to TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group. Comcast Spotlight, the main vehicle for spot cable, got about $3 million. By Tuesday the total could approach $25 million. (Iowa saw $42 million in broadcast spending but with far more candidates in the race.)

The Clinton campaign last week called the Obama spending "earth-shattering, record-breaking, eye-popping," but TV stations say it pales in comparison with spending in a recent Democratic gubernatorial primary. As of April 16, the Obama campaign had spent $8.2 million to the Clinton camp's $3.2 million.

Of course, what the Clinton campaign was saying in its ads was something else entirely. One spot showed voters expressing their distress over Mr. Obama's comment that rural voters cling to guns and religion because they are bitter toward the government. Mr. Obama countered with an ad saying Ms. Clinton was simply trying to distract voters with the same old politics of divisiveness while he was out fighting for voters.

Taking 'a dime'
Another ad spat revolved around the issue of who was taking money from corporate interests, with Team Clinton jumping all over a claim by Mr. Obama that he didn't take a "dime" from oil lobbyists or political action committees. A Clinton ad pointed out that Mr. Obama had taken $200,000 in donations from the same oil companies he'd been attacking -- and he voted for the Bush-Cheney energy bill.

In Philadelphia, the nation's fourth-largest market, both candidates have spent double to triple what they have in Pittsburgh, the 22nd-largest market. The Obama campaign not only has spent more but has made broader buys beyond news or informational programming. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that both campaigns had even bought ads on Fox's broadcast of "American Idol" in the Philadelphia market (three for Obama, one for Clinton).

Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, said local TV stations have struck a gold mine.

"It's like an ice-cream truck breaking down in front of their house," he said, adding that the spending could bode well for Pennsylvania going into the general-election campaign this fall.

Bob Bee, director of sales for Hearst-Argyle's WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, said the windfall was a welcome surprise since the state wasn't expected to be a major factor in the Democratic race. He added that the presidential-campaign spending turned out to be a savior when expected buys in local primary races failed to materialize.

Flurry of spending
A number of stations in the market have offered special primary-related programming, both on TV stations and on station websites.

While the Pennsylvania primary follows elections in Ohio and Texas by six weeks, TV, cable and media trackers said there was no spending the first two weeks, then modest spending, which was followed in the last weeks by a flurry of ads and cash.

Dana Runnells, a spokesperson for Comcast Spotlight, which sells the two minutes an hour of local cable for channels in most of Pennsylvania, said the candidates have made 22% of their TV buys in Philadelphia on cable. In Pittsburgh about 16.2% of buys have been on cable.
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