More than 8 in 10 Philadelphians voted for President Obama in 2008, and he bested Republican Sen. John McCain by comfortable margins in every county surrounding it. But to watch local television now, one would think the fifth-largest city in the nation was a Republican stronghold.
Nearly every political ad on broadcast television is for a Republican here, the peculiar result of its status as one of the lowest priorities among of the swing states and an illustration of what can happen when, thanks to new rules that led to super PACs, one side has far more money to spend than the other.
Philadelphia is by far the most politically lopsided of any of the nation’s largest 50 media markets, according to an analysis by The Washington Times of federal broadcasting records, and the only one in which one party has a heavy spending advantage in a market where the other party dominates.
The state is one of a handful that traditionally determine the outcome of presidential races, but both presidential campaigns have stopped running ads in Pennsylvania as a once-close race swung increasingly in Mr. Obama’s favor, who has a sizable lead in mostpolls. Yet independent groups funded by wealthy financial industry donors backing Republican nominee Mitt Romney have not given up, leaving Keystone State residents bombarded exclusively by ads for a candidate who is unlikely to capture the commonwealth’s 20 electoral votes.
“Normally, you expect to have [broadcast ad purchases] be representative of voters,” said Kevin Arceneaux, a political-science professor at Philadelphia’s Temple University. But Romney backers appear to be taking a cue from the playbook of George W. Bush in 2000, who employed some of his cash surplus over Democrat Al Gore to run ads in solidly blue California.
Romney backers are “trying to reach those wealthy Philadelphia suburb voters and trying to draw Obama’s resources away, which means he has to take them away from closer states” such as Colorado and Ohio, where the campaign has placed the bulk of its advertising, he said.
(Corrected paragraph:) The presidential ads are coming from Americans for Prosperity, a group organized as a nonprofit that does not disclose its donors, and Restore Our Future, the super PAC run by former staffers of Mr. Romney and funded by million-dollar contributions from Mr. Romney’s former colleagues in the finance industry.
Restore Our Future has made 24 separate buys of varying size, including three disclosed last week totaling $145,000, for ads slated to run during Phillies baseball and Eagles football games. Americans for Prosperity has made 53 ad buys on broadcast stations in the Philadelphia market in the past month.
“We’re on the air in a lot of states that aren’t traditionally considered our ground,” said Levi Russell, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, noting that the independent groups that have given Republicans much of their money advantage can have longer-term strategies than the campaigns.
“We’re not trying to win votes, we’re trying to win hearts and minds. We’re trying to affect individuals, not individual counties or states,” Mr. Russell said. The nonprofit recently has moved away from an advertising to an on-the-ground focus in Philadelphia and nationally.
But the Republican ad advantage in the Democratic-leaning region continues down the ballot, with Tom Smith, a Republican challenging Democratic Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., buying 47 ads in the past month while the incumbent Mr. Casey, comfortably ahead in the polls, has run none.
In House races, Rep. Patrick Meehan, a freshman Republican, has made 12 ad buys, while his Democratic opponent, George Badey, has had little cash to spare in a close race that could help determine control of the chamber.
(Corrected paragraph:) Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick, a Republican running against Kathy Boockvar in a neighboring district, has reserved nearly a million dollars in broadcast ads, while Mrs. Boockvar has run none.
And in the New Jersey Senate race taking place within reach of the Philadelphia airwaves, Republican state Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos has made 16 buys from Philadelphia stations that reach southern New Jersey, a part of the state where he will have a steep climb, while Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez has run no ads.
The eerie quiet from Democrats because of a lack of funds doesn’t mean they won’t be present, Mr. Arceneaux said.
“I wonder if this is [that] they know they’re going to be outspent, so this is a way to keep their powder dry. I’d expect to see a tick up in October.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Luke Rosiak is a projects reporter on The Washington Times’ investigative team. He formerly covered lobbying and campaign finance for two watchdog groups as well as transportation for The Washington Post. Luke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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