The ad above, called “Next,” is airing frequently on television stations in Cleveland. It is paid for by Crossroads GPS, a super PAC targeting President Obama and congressional Democrats.
CANTON, Ohio — According to the ads airing incessantly on television here, President Obama thinks small business owners are the enemy. Women from Massachusetts don’t like Mitt Romney, while other women go jogging to forget about their husband’s unemployment. And no matter what the Democrats allege, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Ohio) didn’t vote to cut federal funding for cancer screening — because he’s a cancer survivor.
Cleveland-area television viewers see these messages repeatedly, during commercial breaks in newscasts, soap operas and episodes of “Ellen.” But people here need their news, weather and daily fill of prime-time dramas — so they appear willing to endure the ad onslaught for a few more weeks.
“Sometimes I think it’s confusing. They’re all liars anyway,” said Eugene Smith, 70, a Canton resident who refuses to change the channel when he sees political ads, because “it would just be the same thing on the other channel.”
His wife, Mary Lou Smith, 68, wishes that the politicians would ban all the ads about politicians — but then they’d have to repeal the First Amendment.
“One says the same thing as the other,” she complained.
The Smiths are among roughly 1.5 million “television households” in the greater Cleveland area, the 18th-largest market tracked by the Nielsen ratings, but currently the top region for political advertising, according to the Television Bureau of Advertising.
Through the first few days of September, candidates, campaign committees and super PACs poured more than $37.2 million into the Cleveland market (which includes Akron and Canton), placing it ahead of Washington, D.C., Tampa, Las Vegas and Orlando for political ad dollars. Ad buyers say that TV stations in nearby Columbus are also nearly sold out of ad space through November.
How often do the ads air in Cleveland? Who’s airing the ads and what do they say? 2chambers turned on the TV to find out.
TUESDAY NIGHT, 10 P.M.
The CBS affiliate WOIO-TV was airing a new drama, “Vegas,” starring Dennis Quaid as the Sin City sheriff and Michael Chiklis as a mob boss. As the clock struck 10:38 p.m., viewers saw an ad from the House Majority PAC, which is spending $400,000 over two weeks to attack Renacci:
“It’s the Washington way: ‘Big Oil’ bankrolls a congressman’s campaign, he protects their tax breaks,” the ad’s announcer said, before claiming that Renacci supported tax cuts for oil firms while owning $700,000 in oil stocks.
“Insider plays, Washington ways,” the announcer added. “Jim Renacci: Not just a typical politician. Worse.”
Renacci faces Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) in the state’s hotly-contested 16th Congressional District. Nine political groups are spending at least $1.4 million on ads in support of Sutton, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
But conservative groups, including the Congressional Leadership Fund, are also attacking Sutton:
“Sometimes Washington works — just not for us,” an announcer in the CLF ad said. “Take Betty Sutton and Nancy Pelosi. They rammed through Obamacare and cut over $700 billion from Medicare.”
“She voted with Pelosi 99 percent of the time,” the announcer added. “Betty Sutton: She works for Pelosi, not for you.”
The CLF is run by former GOP lawmakers and staffers, who announced plans this week to spend $1 million through early October on two ads tying Sutton to the House Democratic leader.
Next on the air was an Obama campaign ad:
A woman named “Christie” looked at the camera and explained what it’s like to be a mom: “I do the laundry, I pay the bills, I make sure my kids are fed and rested and healthy.”
But an announcer said that “moms like Christie would be stretched even more under Mitt Romney. To fund his tax cut for millionaires, Romney could take away middle-class deductions for child care, home mortgages and college tuition.”
“Mitt Romney, he’s so focused on big business and tax cuts for the wealthy,” Christie said. “It seems like his answers for middle-class Americans are just, ‘Tough Luck.’”
Later in the hour — after Quaid figured out who murdered the governor’s niece — viewers saw an Obama ad about China:
“When a flood of Chinese tires threatened a thousand American jobs, it was President Obama who stood up to China and protected American workers,” the ad said. “Mitt Romney attacked Obama’s decision, he said standing up to China was ‘bad for the nation and our workers.’ How can Mitt Romney take on the cheaters when he’s taking their side?”
Before viewers could answer that question, Renacci appeared on-screen and said that he’s a cancer survivor — and that Betty Sutton is wrong to attack him on cancer funding:
“They found my cancer early, and now I get to watch my children grow old,” he said. “That kind of thing is far more important than politics. That’s why I can’t believe Betty Sutton’s team is attacking me wrongly on cancer funding. I work hard everyday to make sure anyone who gets cancer can beat it. It’s personal.”
According to his office, Renacci was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2006 and had surgery in 2007, before being elected to Congress in 2010. But his ad isn’t about his cancer, it’s about refuting charges in a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad that claimed he voted against funding for breast and cervical cancer treatments.
A lot to process, but “Vegas” is over, so it’s time for bed. Surely it won’t be this bad in the morning, right?
WEDNESDAY, 8:30 A.M.
Then the political ad glut began anew.
At 8:43 a.m., it was an ad for “Mike Dovilla for State Representative.”
Fifteen seconds later, it was Casey Kozlowski’s, who’s also running for state representative. Then that CLF ad about Sutton and Pelosi aired again.
Back to “GMA,” where George Stephanopoulos recapped Pamela Anderson’s losing turn on “Dancing With the Stars.” A short time later, back to commercials, where viewers met a woman in Massachusetts who doesn’t like Romney:
“Olive” said she’s a political independent who donated and voted for then-Gov. Romney. But “I feel like I was duped by Mitt Romney,” she said. “I’m going to vote for President Obama.”
The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action paid for the ad as part of at least $30 million in ad buys in six swing states to combat heavy spending by Republican super PACs.
At 8:49 a.m., the Renacci cancer ad aired again, followed by ads for state general assembly candidates. None of the messages explained where the candidate is actually running.
Do any of these ads resonate with voters? Yes, they do.
Obama supporter Danny Lucas, 52, said he tunes out most of the commercials, but he did remember seeing “that one about China and tires” that was spotted Tuesday night.
“I don’t know if it’s true, but The Washington Post said it was,” Lucas said.
(Well, not quite. The ad about China and tires references a 2009 article in the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill. But other Obama ads airing in Ohio often use quotes from Washington Post news articles, op-eds and fact checks. Can we blame Lucas for being confused?)
Sherah Bennett, 47, said Wednesday that she tries to ignore the ads that air during her daytime soap operas. But she vividly recalled an ad “about Romney and about how he caused that company to fail. That was pretty powerful.”
She couldn’t name “that company” or who paid for the ad — maybe the Obama campaign or Priorities USA Action — but Bennett’s recollection confirms recent polling data that suggest that months of Obama attack ads are cementing negative perceptions of Romney.
Even if Bennett doesn’t like the ads, “I just soldier through them,” she said. “They air during my soap operas. The Republicans run the most during the soap operas.”
And what are the ads about?
“They talk about Sherrod Brown – and that kid in his 30s, what’s his name? Josh Mandel,” she said. “He is young — you can tell.”
Mandel, 34, is the Republican state treasurer running against Brown (D-Ohio) in the U.S. Senate race. Mandel is running several ads, including “Accountable,” which aired Tuesday and Wednesday during late-afternoon newscasts and talk shows:
Conservative groups, led by the business-friendly U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are expected to spend at least $17 million attacking Brown. An anti-Brown ad by Crossroads GPS airing this week is inspired by a popular series of ads for Direct TV:
“When Sherrod Brown voted for Obamacare, Ohio manufactuers got a new tax,” the ad said. “When Ohio manufacturers get new taxes, they don't hire. When manufacturers don’t hire, people don’t have jobs. When people don’t have jobs, they ask why Sherrod Brown voted with Obama 95 percent of the time. When you vote with Obama 95 percent of the time, it hurts Ohio. Don’t let Sherrod Brown hurt Ohio. It’s time to boot Brown.”
“I run to forget,” the woman said. “Forget about my problems. Forget that my husband has been laid-off twice in the last four years. To forget the bad economy. I voted for Obama — but ‘Hope and Change’ was just a slogan.”
Voters griped about political ads Wednesday while visiting the Stark County District Library, built on the site of William McKinley’s house, where he launched his 1896 “front porch” campaign for president. At the library entrance, a historical marker said that at least 700,000 people came to visit McKinley at his porch. Of course,that was long before the TV airwaves could instantly transport candidates beyond the front porch and right into a voter’s living room.
But millions of dollars in political ad spending likely will never reach some voters, such as Karen Benton. Rushing into the library to pick up some books, she said she is eschewing television and using the Internet to learn about the candidates.
Why did she get rid of her TV? Was it because of the political ads?
“No, because of those reality TV shows,” she said. “What garbage.”
Previously during the #5in5 trip:
Monday, Pennsylvania District 12: An interview with Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.)
Tuesday, PA-3: Meet an ex-college professor and first-time candidate