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Originally published Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Obama outpacing McCain ads 4-to-1

Barack Obama is days away from breaking the $188 million advertising spending record set by President Bush in the 2004 general-election campaign.

The New York Times

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PHILADELPHIA — Barack Obama is days away from breaking the $188 million advertising spending record set by President Bush in the 2004 general-election campaign.

With advertisements running repeatedly day and night, on local stations and on the major broadcast networks, on niche cable networks and even on video games and his dedicated satellite channels, Obama now is out-advertising John McCain nationwide by at least a 4-to-1 ratio, according to CMAG, a service that monitors political advertising. That difference is even larger in several closely contested states.

The huge gap has been made possible by Obama's decision to opt out of the federal campaign-finance system, which gives presidential nominees a dollar for every dollar they raise but limits to $84 million the amount they can spend between their party convention and Election Day. McCain is participating in the system.

Obama, who at one point promised to participate in it as well, is expected to announce in the next few days that he raised more than $100 million in September, a figure that would shatter previous monthly fundraising records.

"This is uncharted territory," said Kenneth Goldstein, director of the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin. "We've certainly seen heavy advertising battles before. But we've never seen in a presidential race one side having such a lopsided advantage."

While Obama's decision to forgo matching funds — and the limits that come with them — has given him a spending advantage throughout the election, his television dominance has become most apparent in the past few weeks, as he has gone on a buying binge of television time that has allowed him to utterly swamp McCain's campaign with concurrent lines of positive and negative messages.

Obama's advertisements come as Republicans began a blitz of so-called "robo" calls — automated telephone calls attacking Obama. The first wave is focusing on the Democrat's ties to 1960s radical Bill Ayers.

The message, part of a $70 million get-out-the-vote operation, is among what one Republican campaign worker described as "a couple of hundred" different calls that the GOP plans to employ, tailored to individual states and areas and paid for by state parties, the Republican National Committee or the McCain campaign.

The Obama campaign's advertising approach — which has included ads of up to two minutes long in which Obama positively lays out his agenda, and even ads in video games such as "Guitar Hero" — has helped mask some of Obama's rougher attacks on his rival.

"What Obama is doing is being his own good cop and bad cop," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of CMAG, who calls the ad war "a blowout" in Obama's favor.

The disparity has come to the frustration of McCain, who traded accusations with Obama over the advertising battle during this week's debate, with Obama telling McCain, "your ads, 100 percent of them have been negative," and McCain saying that "Senator Obama has spent more money on negative ads than any political campaign in history."

The most recent analysis of presidential advertisements by the University of Wisconsin available before the debate — based on a one-week period from Sept. 28 through Oct. 4 — found McCain's commercials had been "nearly 100 percent negative" and that the same could be said for 34 percent of Obama's advertisements, which were more focused that week on promoting Obama's agenda.

That finding reflected the McCain campaign's strategy of trying to make Obama an unacceptable choice in the eyes of undecided voters and Obama's goal of making undecided voters comfortable with him.

In general, the Wisconsin Advertising Project says, 54 percent of McCain's advertisements since Obama wrapped up the Democratic nomination have been completely focused on attacking him; roughly one-quarter have mixed criticism of Obama with a positive message about McCain, and 20 percent were devoted solely to promoting McCain.

During the same period, the study found that 41 percent of Obama's advertisements had been devoted solely to attacking McCain; one-fifth have mixed criticism of McCain with a positive message about Obama, and 38 percent were devoted solely to promoting Obama.

McCain is receiving help from the Republican Party's independent advertising unit, but it cannot coordinate with the party leadership or McCain's campaign, meaning it is not always in line with McCain's campaign message.

A smattering of outside groups is running hard-charging ads against Obama in closely contested states, but he has the money to immediately meet those attacks with defensive spots directly addressing their charges.

Now spending almost as much as he can in local television markets, Obama has increased his advertising on the broadcast television networks — including on NFL games and soap operas — that reach all states.

"They're doing the networks because they've saturated these markets and they're looking for more time," said Tracey, on CMAG.

Obama bought so heavily on NFL games and "60 Minutes" on CBS last Sunday that, according to CMAG, he spent $6.5 million on a day when McCain spent less than $1 million.

Based on current spending, CMAG predicts that by early next week Obama's general-election advertising campaign will surpass the $188 million Bush spent on his 2004 campaign. McCain has spent $91 million on advertising.

Details on the McCain campaign's "robo" calls were provided by The Washington Post.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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