Television station owners must be rejoicing; viewers, on the other hand . . .

Political candidates, parties and interest groups spent more money on television ads this election season than ever before -- more than $1 billion, the advocacy group Alliance for Better Campaigns reported. That's twice as much as they spent in the last midterm election and -- even more astonishing -- one-quarter more than they ponied up for the 2000 presidential cycle.

How many ads is that? According to the group's estimates, which are based on data collected from the nation's top 100 media markets and estimates from a few hot races outside those, that is at least 1.49 million ads.

But how many ads is that? According to Paul Taylor, the group's president: If you watched every one of those spots -- every ad that accused someone of being "out of touch with the voters" or of launching a negative ad or of opposing the president on something or other -- you would have to watch for 40 hours a week, without taking any vacations, until 2008. And by then, Taylor said, "you'd surely have gone bonkers."

Rep. Combest of Texas to Resign in May

One week after being reelected to his 10th term, Rep. Larry Combest (R-Tex.) announced yesterday that he plans to resign his seat effective May 31, 2003. He cited personal reasons.

"There have been a number of events that have happened to Sharon and me in the last year that have made us realize how fragile life and health are," he said in a statement. "They certainly caused us to rearrange our priorities and we want to spend as much time together while we have our life and health."

His spokesman declined to elaborate on the statement, in which Combest said he believed the May date would give prospective candidates enough time to prepare for the special election to fill the seat in the heavily Republican district.

Combest, 57, has been chairman of the Agriculture Committee for the past four years. He helped shepherd a measure that overhauled the government's crop insurance program and, this year, the latest incarnation of the farm bill.

Boston in Lead for Democratic Convention

Boston appears to have the inside track to host the 2004 Democratic National Convention, with party officials and members of the site selection committee meeting today to try to make a decision.

New York, Detroit and Miami are the other finalists in the competition for the convention, with New York considered the principal alternative to Boston. But Republicans also are looking closely at New York to host their convention, and Democrats prefer a city that will give them exclusive attention.

Detroit impressed committee members this year and Michigan has a newly elected Democratic governor in Jennifer Granholm, but the city lacks some facilities Boston and New York offer.

Boston put together an impressive proposal, committee members say, and Democratic Mayor Tom Menino has made winning the competition a top priority of his administration.


South Dakota officials yesterday completed their canvass of the hotly contested Senate race there and certified Sen. Tim Johnson (D) the winner over Rep. John Thune (R) by 524 votes.

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.