Political strategists and analysts agree there are perhaps 17 battleground states in the presidential race, but Democrat John F. Kerry's spending on TV ads suggest he is especially keen on two, Ohio and Missouri.
President Bush's heaviest spending, meanwhile, focuses largely on three states he narrowly lost in 2000 -- Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin -- and two that he lost rather decisively, Delaware and Michigan. Not surprisingly, both campaigns are advertising heavily in Florida, with Kerry and his supporters outspending Bush in most markets except Miami and the panhandle.
The findings are contained in a new study of campaign spending patterns in the nation's 210 TV markets, from March 4 to June 20. The study was released yesterday by Nielsen Monitor-Plus and the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project.
The findings underscore the importance to Kerry of labor unions, MoveOn.org and other groups that have aired independent TV ads boosting him or criticizing Bush. The Bush campaign ran more ads than the Kerry campaign in all but 10 of the 93 media markets where presidential ads aired during the 15-week period.
But when independent purchases are included, "the Kerry campaign and its allies are reaching voters more often than the Bush campaign in most of the top media markets in battleground states," said Ken Goldstein, director of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project.
The study, summarized in yesterday's New York Times, found that 60 percent of Americans are seeing virtually no presidential ads because they live in states considered locked up by one party or the other. Meanwhile, commercials are flooding a relative handful of states, with Democrats especially focused on Missouri and Ohio. Bush carried those states by 3 and 4 percentage points, respectively, against Al Gore in 2000.
The five TV markets most heavily targeted by Kerry and his independent supporters are Toledo and Dayton, Ohio; St. Louis; Columbus, Ohio; and Kansas City, Mo. Cleveland ranks seventh, after Portland, Ore.
The TV markets most heavily targeted by the Bush campaign and its allies are Burlington, Vt., which reaches New Hampshire voters; Detroit; Sioux City, Iowa; Kansas City; Green Bay-Appleton, Wis.; and two Pennsylvania markets, Erie and Wilkes Barre-Scranton. Bush and his independent supporters are substantially outspending Kerry in Salisbury, Md., which targets Delaware voters, and Fargo, N.D., which reaches Minnesotans.
In Pennsylvania, a battleground that Bush lost by 5 percentage points in 2000, the study found that "the Bush campaign had slight advantages in the Philadelphia and Harrisburg markets even though Democrats maintained a significant advantage in the rest of the state," including Scranton, Johnstown and Erie.
Both campaigns ran at least 42 percent of their commercials during local news programs. When the network morning news shows were added -- NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America" were the most popular -- more than half of the presidential campaign ads were accounted for.
With the remaining money, Kerry and his allies showed a preference for programs appealing largely to women. Pro-Kerry ads substantially outnumbered pro-Bush ads during "Judge Judy," "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Dr. Phil" and "Family Feud."
Bush ads predominated on several shows with substantial male viewership, including "60 Minutes" and "JAG," although the buys were not heavy.
The campaigns seem to have different late-night viewing habits. Pro-Kerry ads dominated "Late Show With David Letterman," and pro-Bush ads prevailed during "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."
Generally speaking, the report concluded, "both sides targeted females more than males, and older viewers over younger viewers." Viewers older than 55 "saw far more ads than viewers aged 25-54," and those younger than 25 "have seen, by far, the fewest presidential campaign TV ads."