- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004


The Democratic presidential candidates are scrambling to buy political ads, facing expensive media markets and little time between now and the seven contests on Feb. 3, when the demands of a national campaign replace the retail politics of Iowa and New Hampshire.

All but one of the five major candidates — Sen. John Kerry — has been on the air in some of the Feb. 3 states. The others — Howard Dean, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Wesley Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut — are carefully choosing to run commercials only in states where they think they can compete.

For all, the goal is the same: Ensuring that voters in those states know who they are, and ultimately, turn out to vote. “After New Hampshire, paid advertising drives the votes,” said Scott Reed, a Republican consultant who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign.

The question is, who can afford the large multistate media buys needed to reach that goal? It will cost at least $1 million a week to run enough ads to resonate with voters in all the media markets reaching into the seven states — South Carolina, Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri, Oklahoma, Delaware and North Dakota.

Of those states, Missouri has been the only one largely devoid of presidential campaign ads. The candidates figured that favorite son Rep. Richard A. Gephardt would win the state and did not bother to advertise. But with the congressman out of the race, Missouri and its 74 pledged delegates are up for grabs and the campaigns are weighing whether to run ads there, even if it means buying airtime in St. Louis and Kansas City, two high-priced media markets.

The price tag for Feb. 3 could be costly for candidates who have been spending heavily in the early states.

Mr. Kerry, Mr. Dean and Mr. Edwards were involved in an unusually expensive $10 million ad war in Iowa and all five rivals are on track to spend close to that in New Hampshire by Tuesday’s primary. They are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the ultra-expensive Boston media market in the final week because the stations there are watched by most New Hampshire residents.

Mr. Kerry, who put nearly $7 million of his own money into the campaign, has spent about $4 million in Iowa and New Hampshire, but hasn’t advertised in other states. The Massachusetts senator is basking in the glow of his stunning victory in Iowa Monday and counting on a win in New Hampshire, coupled with an 11th-hour ad blitz in the Feb. 3 states.

“Our priority is to build on momentum after winning Iowa and focus on New Hampshire, and then spread out to the seven states,” said Michael Meehan, a Kerry adviser. “It’s very fluid and we’ll make our decision about when, based on day-to-day judgment.”

Doug Schoen, Bill Clinton’s former pollster and a Democratic strategist unaffiliated with any of the campaigns, said Mr. Kerry’s strategy is somewhat risky because of the expectation of a win in New Hampshire and an accompanying financial windfall.

“It is a gamble, but I think that based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s probably a prudent gamble,” Mr. Schoen said. “Momentum plus advertising is the most powerful thing.”

The drawback is that Mr. Kerry’s rivals have been running TV ads for weeks, and in some cases months, in states where he has been absent from the airwaves. All four of his major rivals are broadcasting heavily in South Carolina, the first-in-the-South primary.

In 2000, the presidential candidates who ran TV ads — five Republicans and two Democrats — spent at least $40 million on advertising in the primaries, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which tracks the spending.

This year, the seven Democratic presidential candidates broadcasting commercials have spent an estimated $28 million so far.

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