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As Obama Plans 24-State Blitz, GOP Hopefuls Rein In Spending

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 1, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama has launched an eight-figure, 24-state barrage of television advertising, heading into the Super Tuesday contests and beyond, that will carry his message to twice as many states as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's ads will reach with her current ad buy.

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While Obama (Ill.) plans to spend more than $10 million on a blitz that will run through Tuesday, the two leading Republican presidential candidates are spending far less on the air wars. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who delayed airing any Super Tuesday commercials, plans to spend $2 million to $3 million in the remaining five days and has released only one ad in California. His chief rival, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), plans a modest buy on national cable networks.

Obama is on the air in all but three of the Feb. 5 states -- he is bypassing his home state of Illinois -- and is to begin advertising today in Maryland, Virginia and the District, which vote Feb. 12. His latest ad begins with black-and-white images of John F. Kennedy and features the endorsement of the late president's daughter, Caroline Kennedy.

Clinton (N.Y.) countered with new commercials yesterday, one playing on anxiety about the economy -- symbolized by a plunging skydiver -- and the other, set to patriotic music, carrying an uplifting appeal of the type usually associated with Obama.

Clinton plans to advertise in a dozen of the 22 states that will hold Democratic primaries and caucuses Tuesday, including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Missouri, Tennessee, Arizona and California. Clinton, whose aides believe she does not have to prove her readiness for the Oval Office, has yet to make any commitments in subsequent states.

But Clinton is also using some unconventional tactics. Her campaign bought an hour block on the Hallmark Channel to air a portion of the national town hall forum her campaign is mounting, on the eve of the Feb. 5 primaries. Clinton, former president Bill Clinton and their daughter, Chelsea, are set to appear.

"We come in at a massive disadvantage for name ID," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said yesterday. "The more people get to know Obama, the better we do. Our supporters want us to be as aggressive as we can in as many places as we can."

Clinton spokesman Phil Singer brushed off the disparity, noting that Obama is running state-specific testimonials from such politicians as Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.). "The campaigns are at different stages. . . . While Senator Clinton is highlighting the solutions for the economy she'll deliver as president, Senator Obama is using third-party validators like Governor Napolitano to assuage voter concerns about his readiness to lead," Singer said.

Ken Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin professor who studies political advertising, said Obama faces the greater challenge. "People know Hillary," he said. "You either like her or don't like her; maybe advertising helps at the margins. Obama really needs to introduce himself."

Romney's California ad, which previously aired elsewhere, stresses his business experience while saying that McCain has never run anything. The Associated Press reported that Romney plans to air ads in other unspecified states but that no decision has been made.

McCain's aides had been preparing for a heavier assault. They note that their candidate won Tuesday's Florida primary after Romney had spent $5 million on television ads there and McCain less than $2 million.

"We've proven we can win races with limited resources," said Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's communications director. "We will be visible, regardless of whether we're on television."


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