'Category 5 Storm' Predicted for Pennsylvania

Up to $40 Million Could Be Spent on Advertising in Upcoming Pol Battle

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Pennsylvania was a key battleground in the American Revolution. Now it's about to become a front in another war that could be just as bloody.
Like mother, like daughter: Chelsea and Hillary celebrate last week's wins.
Like mother, like daughter: Chelsea and Hillary celebrate last week's wins. Credit: Regina H Boone

Hillary Clinton's victories over Barack Obama last week could prompt the wildest advertising-spending battle yet in a presidential campaign that's already seen broadcast dollars exceed $210 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence's Campaign Media Analysis Group. If the candidates can raise the cash, more than $40 million could be spent in the state.

The high expectations for Pennsylvania stem from the primary's newfound importance. Though it won't anoint a clear nominee, both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Obama will be able to point winning there as a sign of momentum. And with more than a month between now and April 22, the candidates will have plenty of time to get their messages in front of voters. As always, fundraising will play a role.

Reactionary messages
"Clinton and Obama are playing match this [on fundraising]," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of CMAG. Further, "the likelihood that the ads will be warm and fuzzy is zero. That will also drive spending as candidates to rush to react to each other's messages."

He predicted the level of political advertising in the state will quickly reach "a Category 5 storm."

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, predicted an all-out battle.

"It's going to be a seven-week war," he said. "All the marbles have to go all in. Obama needs to put her away if he can. ... It will be mean and nasty."

Not that ad sellers and media stations are complaining. "It's a huge opportunity for us," said Dan Sinagoga, director of political advertising for Comcast Spotlight, the unit that sells advertising for Comcast cable systems. Philadelphia-based Comcast has the biggest chunk of cable subscribers in the Keystone State.

Short on gas
For media companies, the political spending has been welcome news amidst reports of pullbacks from automakers, car dealers, real-estate firms and financial-services companies. Even so, the political advertising might not be enough to make up for all the shortfalls.

"It has an effect. They help," said Robert J. Coen, senior VP-director of forecasting at Universal McCann. But he cautioned that the overall primary spending is small compared with total ad spending. Primary spending is also small when compared with fall political advertising, when local-race advertising adds to the impact.

In Texas and Ohio, overall spending of $22 million topped spending for Super Tuesday, a day when more than 20 states were in play. The Obama campaign spent nearly double the Clinton campaign in Texas and Ohio.

Philadelphia speaks up
Michael Colleran, president-general manager of CBS's KYW-TV and WPSG-TV in Philadelphia, said he is pleased because the race will make Pennsylvania "a busy place for the next seven weeks" and bring focus and attention to the state.

"The eyes of the world will be upon us, and everybody welcomes that," he said. "It's undeniable that it will be a boost to the advertising market, but it will give the city and area we live in an awful lot of attention and coverage. And we will have an [important role] in determining the lay of the land in November."

While that $210 million figure includes only broadcast, cable companies are doing fine. National Cable Communications officials said the candidates have made far more use of local cable ads than in past years, with 15% to 20% of media buys this year going to spot buys. They said 65% to 75% of the 30-second ads run in Ohio and Texas were on spot cable.

One final caveat: A decision by Florida or Michigan to recast ballots could change the entire game -- again.
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