Elections 2012
1:24 pm
Fri November 2, 2012

Pres. Obama and Romney Escalate Ad War In New Hampshire

Five days before the Nov. 6 election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney and independent groups that support the presidential candidate are poised to outspend President Barack Obama on television ads targeting New Hampshire voters.

A review of television contracts filed this week with Federal Communications Commission show that the pro-Romney team reserved about $947,000 in air time from Oct. 29 through Election Day on WMUR, WBZ and WHDH.

Meanwhile, the Obama for America campaign reserved about $653,000 in air time on the three stations during the final week of the campaign.

Despite the spending difference, the Obama campaign will not lag far behind the Republican challenger in the number of ads that will air.

All of the 372 spots that support the president's re-election were paid for by Obama for America, which under federal election law is entitled to a discounted price known as the lowest unit rate. This week's media buy includes seven one-minute commercials that will run in prime-time and over the weekend during high-profile college and professional football games.

About 38 percent of the 464 pro-Romney ads, or about $363,000 worth, were paid for by American Crossroads, an independent political group that is subject to market rates. Other groups that have supported Romney's campaign, such as the Super PAC Restore Our Future, have not yet reserved air time for the race's final days, according to FCC filings.

But that could change. The candidates, both of whom have plans to visit the state before Nov. 6, are waging a fierce battle for New Hampshire's four electoral votes, which are crucial in a race that is expected to hinge on the outcome in a small number of swing states.

Despite the final-week ad push by the Romney team, the Obama campaign has dominated the air waves in New Hampshire, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks advertising in federal elections.  

Television viewers in the Granite State were subjected to well over 13,000 presidential campaign ads, more than two-thirds of them in support of the president, between Sept. 9 - Oct. 21, according to the Wesleyan analysis.

The Obama for America campaign aired 9,336 ads on stations in Manchester, Boston, Burlington, Vt., and Portland during the six-week period, at an estimated cost of $5.5 million.

Viewers in those four markets saw 4,206 ads in support of Romney, costing an estimated $3.9 million. Roughly one in four of those ads were funded by independent groups, said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, said 2012 "will go down as a record pulverizing year for political advertising." Between June 1 and Oct. 21, more than 915,000 presidential ads aired across the country — a 44.5 percent increase from the same period in 2008.

The 2012 campaign will also be one of the most negative.

Since October 1, 73 percent of the ads sponsored by the Obama campaign have attacked Romney, compared to just over 6 percent that were considered "purely positive," according to the Wesleyan analysis. One in five Obama ads in October were so-called contrast ads that mention both candidates.

More than half of pro-Romney ads in October, 52 percent, were contrast ads, while 36 percent were negative. About 12 percent were positive.

While many viewers have no doubt tuned out the constant barrage, those still paying attention may have noticed a messaging shift by both campaigns in recent weeks.

In September, more than 90 percent of pro-Romney ads focused on jobs, according to the Wesleyan analysis. That decreased to 82 percent in October as more Romney ads began to challenge the president on the budget deficit (59 percent compared to 39 percent in September) and government spending (47 percent compared to 34 percent).

In the meantime, pro-Obama ads have likewise shifted away from jobs and the lower unemployment rate toward economic disparity and the deficit. The president's steady drumbeat on Romney's tax plan continues, however; nearly half of all pro-Obama ads since Sept. 9 have focused on taxes.

The pro-Obama advantage on New Hampshire air waves mirrors the president's ad dominance four years ago, when he beat Republican nominee John McCain by nearly 10 percentage points.

Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, estimates that Obama had a 2-1 advantage in television advertising in 2008.

This year's race is much closer — the most recent polls give Obama a slight edge, but within the margin of error. Whether the president's advertising advantage will be the difference is hard to say. But but Scala says it can't hurt.

"Especially when you're an incumbent and you've been on the edge of the knife all year in terms of job approval numbers, in terms of head-to-head numbers versus your opponent," he said. "It's been precarious for Obama, so certainly you're much better off to have that decided advantage on the air."