- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The political blitz that’s been hitting Arkansans’ television sets isn’t just limited to the nationally watched fight for a U.S. Senate seat, according to a study released Wednesday that shows a triple-digit percentage increase in ad spending on state-level races.

Arkansas’ candidates for governor, attorney general, the Legislature and other state offices have spent nearly $6.1 million to run more than 16,700 ads in the state. That’s a 486 percent increase over 2010, according to the study from the non-partisan Center for Public Integrity.

The numbers show how much candidates, parties and outside groups are investing in an election where Republicans hope to complete a takeover of top offices in a state that had once been considered a Democratic stronghold in the South. They’re spending nearly $3 per eligible voter, according to the study.

“I think it’s one reason that both sides have gone all in because there’s a recognition that this is a consequential election cycle,” said Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College.

CPI reviewed data about political advertising on national cable and broadcast television in all of the country’s 210 media markets. The organization used research from Kantar Media/CMAG, which tracks political advertising and offers a widely accepted estimate of the money spent to air each spot. The data are only through Sept. 8 and spending could increase over the final weeks of the election campaign.

These figures only represent part of the money spend on political advertising. They do not include the money spent on ads on radio, online and direct mail, as well television ads on local cable systems or the cost of producing the messages. That means the total cost of spending on political ads can be significantly higher.

The study also doesn’t cover federal races such as the contest between Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, which has dwarfed the spending on other races down the ballot.

The jump in ad spending in Arkansas is partly due to a changed political environment. Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe coasted to victory four years ago against an underfunded GOP rival, and Republicans failed to field a nominee for attorney general and two other constitutional offices. Republicans are running candidates for all seven constitutional offices, and control both chambers of the Legislature.

Most of the spending this election cycle has been focused on the race to succeed Beebe, who is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. Democrat Mike Ross, Republican Asa Hutchinson and outside groups have spent more than $4.1 million to run ads in the race. The ads have become a flashpoint in the race, with Ross and Hutchinson accusing each other of being behind negative ads as they squared off for their first televised debate last week.

Nearly $1 million has been spent in the attorney general’s race, with most for ads during Republican Leslie Rutledge’s successful bid for her party’s nomination last spring. Rutledge won in a June runoff after being targeted by Judicial Crisis Network, an outside group that spent $241,200 to run ads portraying her as soft on gun rights.

Rutledge, who is running against Democratic state Rep. Nate Steel, earlier this year said she believed those spots backfired.

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Online:

Center for Public Integrity Report on Arkansas: https://www.publicintegrity.org/who-calls-shots/arkansas

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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