- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2012

Mitt Romney and his presidential campaign are invading living rooms in key states across the country through a barrage of television ads that aim to convince voters that their economic well-being hinges on a change in the White House.

Backed by his second-straight $100 million fundraising month, Mr. Romney has poured $45 million into his television ad offensive, pounding home the message that four years after President Obama cruised to victory on bipartisan hopes, he has abandoned those voters who sent him to Washington and instead governed as a big-spending liberal.

“Four years ago, Barack Obama was concerned about Florida’s economy,” a narrator says in a Romney ad targeted at the Sunshine State. Mr. Obama was so tied up in passing his health care overhaul that he took his eye off the state’s unemployment, housing foreclosures and poverty woes, the narrator says. “Barack Obama: what a disappointment,” the ad concludes.

Darrell M. West, author of “Air Wars: Television Advertising in Election Campaigns,” said Mr. Romney’s message has been pretty cut-and-dried: Don’t trust Obama.

“Many of their ads tap into voter mistrust and seek to turn it to their own advantage,” Mr. West said. “Romney hopes voters blame the bad economy on the president and concludes they can’t trust him with a second term.”

Mr. Obama has run $125 million in broadcast and cable TV ads, chiefly painting Mr. Romney as a corporate tool, calling into question his foggy tax history as well as his offshore bank accounts, and claiming that the Republican wants to increase taxes on middle-class families in order to cover the cost of cutting taxes on the rich.

Citing data from Kantar Media/Campaign Analysis Group, which tracks campaign ad spending, the Associated Press reported Monday that Ohio, Florida and Iowa have been bombarded with more ads than other states, and that between the two campaigns and outside groups, a total of $350 million has been spent on commercials that have run in nine states. The other targeted states are Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

The messages are repeated in Web ads targeted based on the locations of computer users, and have been adapted for the growing Spanish-speaking voter population.

But the onslaught begs the question: When do the ads reach the point of diminished returns? Polls show voters have a less favorable impression of the Republican, but they still see him as better equipped to handle the economy than Mr. Obama. Voters also say they would rather have a beer with the president than with Mr. Romney.

While the ads reach tens of millions of voters, both campaigns are targeting a much narrower slice of the electorate, said Erika Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, where she tracks political ads.

“There are a whole host of folks who are listening to these messages who are extremely entrenched in one of the two parties, basically who are tuning them out or rejecting all the other messages on the other side,” she said. “The ads are really intended to target those moderate, those swing voters, who may be few and far between. But campaigns don’t care about efficiency and are going to go after those folks wherever they are and overload them with ads.”

Less than 100 days before the election, it appears clear that more money than ever will be dumped into the air wars.

“There has been so much money spent that in some of the more bombarded markets you are going to run out of spots,” said Kip Cassino, a political media researcher at Borrell Associates. “I wouldn’t at all be surprised that in places like Columbus, Ohio, we are going to start to see political ads at the movies. Because there is just so much money being spent, there aren’t enough spots to cover it.”

Along those same lines, the Wall Street Journal reported last month that ESPN, the cable-sports news network, had cut a deal to show more campaign ads during the fall run-up to the Nov. 6 election.

To date, Mr. Obama has easily outspent Mr. Romney, $125 million to $45 million, on ads, according to the Associated Press.

Mr. Romney kicked off his general election campaign with a “Day One” television ad that said on his first day in the White House he would approve the Keystone XL pipeline, introduce tax cuts and reforms and begin to replace “Obamacare” with “common-sense health care reform.” In a follow-up ad, he expanded his “Day One” do-to list to include deficit reductions, a vow to stand up to China on trade and a repeal of “job-killing regulations.”

In the ensuing weeks, he has run a number of Spanish-language ads, including one featuring his son Craig, who shows off his bilingual skills while talking about his father’s respect for immigrants. “I would like to tell you how my father, Mitt Romney, thinks,” he says in Spanish. “He values very much that we are a nation of immigrants. My grandfather George was born in Mexico. For our family, the greatness of the United States is how we respect and help each other, regardless of where we come from.”

Mr. Romney also has claimed that some of Mr. Obama’s attacks aren’t true, and seized on Mr. Obama’s “you didn’t build this” remarks, touting them as more proof that the president is a tax-hiking, big-government liberal.

Over the weekend, the Romney campaign rolled out a “Cherished Relationship” commercial, criticizing Mr. Obama for not visiting Israel as president and for his refusal to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state.

On Monday, Mr. Romney announced that he and his allies had $185 million cash on hand as of July 31 — more than enough to make sure the ads keep rolling.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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