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Ohio TV viewers can’t escape the mass, crass campaign ads
CINCINNATI — You're a mom arriving home from work on Friday in Cincinnati, and you flip on the local ABC news as you push the kids outside to play and settle in the kitchen to get dinner ready.
Four minutes into the 5 o'clock news, you see an ad for Mitt Romney, commiserating that "there's suffering in this country." Moments later, Mr. Obama is on the screen accusing Mr. Romney of raising nursing home fees as governor of Massachusetts. Minutes later, Mr. Romney is back again, smiling earnestly and telling you that the question you should be asking "is who can bring back the jobs?"
Six minutes, three campaign commercials. Flip over to CBS, NBC or Fox — which isn't even showing a newscast, but rather "The Rikki Lake Show" — and it's the same.
Welcome to the air wars playing out in the battleground state of Ohio, where the presidential campaigns, the national political parties, interest groups and the state's two Senate candidates are clawing morning, noon and night for precious airtime.
"There is no time of the day where you can get away from the ads," said Alex Triantafilou, chairman of the Hamilton County Republican Party.
Even insomniacs are bombarded, leaving Gene Beaupre, Xavier University political scientist, to wonder who the target audience is for ads that run at 4:30 a.m.
"I don't know who those people are — are they swing voters?" he said.
It all translates into a boom year for local stations, who have had candidates advertise early and very, very often.
"The biggest change from 2008 to 2012 is that the cycle began much earlier," said Les Vann, general manager of WKRC-TV, the local CBS affiliate. "We had volume and activity in Cincinnati in April and May this year that we did not see in 2008 until July and August."
His experience has taught him that the most sought-after time slots are during the local newscasts and during National Football League games featuring the hometown Bengals.
Newscasts in some parts of the country reportedly have had to curtail their news time to accommodate the flood of ads. Mr. Vann said his station hasn't had to do that but said, "We would look at that if the demand was high enough."
Flipping between the channels on Friday between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., The Washington Times saw at least 60 commercials on the four networks.
The jobs theme dominated, especially in the ads featuring Mr. Romney touting his plan to create 12 million jobs in one term.
Attack ads included Obama campaign clips accusing Mr. Romney of raising nursing home fees in Massachusetts.
"His budget cuts Medicaid by one-third and burdens families with the cost of nursing home care," the ad announcer intones.
That single ad ran at least 14 times during the two-hour window.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, the incumbent Democrat, and state Treasurer Josh Mandel, the Republican challenger, and their allies ran more than 20 commercials over that same time frame.
In his ads, Mr. Brown touts Mr. Mandel's opposition to the auto bailout and casts him as a pawn for shady right-wing figures.
Mr. Mandel juxtaposed news reports that said Mr. Brown has been "delinquent" in paying his taxes against his willingness to support tax hikes and vote for congressional pay raises.
Meanwhile, Crossroads GPS, the super PAC affiliated with Karl Rove, who served as a top adviser to President George W. Bush, is attacking Mr. Brown, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is running ads against Mr. Mandel.
Topping it off, the local newscasts also spent much of their time covering the races, giving viewers little respite.
The ads underscore the importance of Cincinnati and surrounding Hamilton County, which are some of the biggest prizes up for grabs in Ohio. The state is considered in play in the presidential and Senate elections this year.
For decades, the area was a Republican stronghold, serving as a counterbalance to urban, more traditionally Democratic parts of the state.
But Mr. Obama's victory here four years ago changed that. Now both parties say they are optimistic that they will capture the county.
This year, Democrats say they got a head start in the area, thanks to heavy investments the Obama campaign made during the summer, running ads aimed at defining Mr. Romney as a corporate raider, said Caleb Faux, Hamilton County Democratic Party executive director.
He also said the Obama camp has had at least one full-time staffer on the ground here coordinating with volunteers since the 2008 campaign and has had eight campaign offices open for months.
"We started sooner, and we also have a larger and better-organized ground game than we saw in 2008," Mr. Faux said. "A good, solid, ground game can make a solid difference of 2 to 4 points. I think the investment of the Obama campaign in that ground game is huge, and I think that will pay off."
Republicans, though, say they're on the ground now and have a much better financial footing than they did four years ago, when Republican nominee John McCain was hamstrung by the public financing system, while Mr. Obama was not. This year, Mr. Romney joined Mr. Obama in forgoing public funds, freeing both men to raise and spend without limits.
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