The total figure is nearly twice the amount spent on Medicare-related advertising in 2012 and three times as much as groups have put toward immigration-related spots, according to the media tracking firm CMAG/Kantar Media.
At this point in the 2008 cycle, CMAG had not seen any presidential campaign ads that touched on the issue.
“This really is different,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which opposes abortion. “There were fits and starts of this conversation in 2008, especially because you had so many women running for office. This time it feels more extended and like an issue that will move voters.”
On Tuesday, Dannenfelser’s group announced a $150,000 television campaign in Missouri to highlight President Obama’s “extreme abortion record.” She is crisscrossing the country on a 30-stop bus tour, the group’s first during a presidential contest. The Susan B. Anthony List’s membership has grown from 143,000 in 2008 to 365,000 in 2012.
What began with a fight last year over defunding Planned Parenthood — a battle that nearly shut down the federal government — became a fierce debate over government-mandated coverage for contraceptives. Abortion restrictions, which states previously passed with little fanfare, began blowing up into national controversies.
A Mississippi push to declare personhood as beginning at conception drew attention nationwide because some critics saw it as a de facto ban on abortion. Virginia’s proposal to require a transvaginal ultrasound before an abortion sparked a national outcry from abortion-rights supporters, even though six states already had such laws in place.
Then a comment by Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) — his immediately discredited assertion that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy — revived the issue.
“These issues have been magnified, elevated and catapulted up to the presidential level,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Advocates on each side see a political advantage to continuing the debate. For Republicans, many polls show that abortion opponents consider it a more important factor in their vote than do abortion-rights supporters.
At the same time, Democrats seem to have found a foothold. In a Pew Research Center poll in March, 49 percent of voters said the Democratic Party would do a “better job” representing their views on abortion. For the Republican Party, that number stood at 33 percent.
“This issue of women’s health is going to play a much bigger role nationally than it ever has,” said Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg. “I’m working on multiple races where we’re going to run on this.”