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.
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."
With McCain making only a token television buy, said Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, Romney may be reluctant to risk more of his personal fortune on commercials. "How much do your odds improve with a big ad buy at this point?" Tracey asked. "He's not competing against a Clinton or Obama, where money's not an issue."
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has made a small national cable buy for an ad that calls for the Internal Revenue Service to be abolished.
While the campaign has been in full swing for nearly a year, analysts say, the latest round of advertising could be pivotal because many voters in the Super Tuesday states are tuning in for the first time.
The Clinton ad featuring the skydiver says that "our economy could be heading into free fall," citing foreclosures, interest rates and health-care costs. As the skydiver's parachute unfurls, the spot touts Clinton as "the person you can depend on to fix the economy and protect our future."
In the other ad, Clinton praises the nation's "can-do spirit" and, in a veiled swipe at Obama, says: "We know you can't solve economic problems with political promises." A third ad quotes from a New York Times editorial endorsing her.
One Obama ad features excerpts of his speech after winning Saturday's South Carolina primary, in which he declares: "This election is about the past versus the future. . . . Don't tell me we can't change. Yes, we can." In another, he promises a middle-class tax cut and an end to the Iraq war. A third spot is more biographical, with Obama beginning: "My parents weren't rich. My father left me when I was very young."
Both Democrats are targeting Hispanic voters. Clinton is running a Spanish-language ad in such states as Arizona and California that says: "Millions of Hispanic families live with the fear of not having health insurance. . . . Hillary is our friend and will help us."
Obama's Spanish-language ad, also airing in Arizona and California, features Luis V. Gutierrez, a congressman from Chicago who touts him as a leader on immigration reform. "We know what it feels like being used as a scapegoat just because of our background and last name," Gutierrez says.