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2008 Campaign Ads Saturate the Air Waves in Iowa

November 9, 2007 at 6:25 PM EDT

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: I’m Hillary Clinton, and I approved this message.

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), Massachusetts: I’m Mitt Romney, and I approved this message.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Iowa, the TV ad blitz is on, as candidates try to reach voters ahead of the January 3rd caucuses. So far, Democrats have set the pace, spending money on ads in record numbers with several different themes. A new ad from Barack Obama, who began running ads back in June, features a retired general.

GEN. MERRILL A. MCPEAK (Ret.), Former Member, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Barack Obama opposed this war in Iraq from the start, showing insight and courage others did not.

AD NARRATOR: When George Bush threatened to privatize Social Security, Hillary was there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Hillary Clinton, with a slim lead in Iowa polls, is currently running an issues ad called “There For You” about her work on behalf of the elderly.

John Edwards has spent more time than anyone in Iowa, but only recently joined the ad wars. He’s now running one called “Heroes.”

FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), Presidential Candidate: It is time for our party, the Democratic Party, to show a little backbone, to have a little guts, to stand up for working men and women.

JEFFREY BROWN: By contrast, Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson are emphasizing bringing both parties together.


DODD SUPPORTER: After all, Dodd brought both parties together to pass the Family Medical Leave Act.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), New Mexico: If you’re wondering if anyone can really do all this, just look at what I’ve done in my life and how I’ve done it, not by dividing people, but by earning their trust. And that’s really where we need to begin in Iraq: There is a way out.

JEFFREY BROWN: Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich are not currently airing TV ads in Iowa.

For their part, Republicans have generally been slower to take to the Iowa airwaves. John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter are not currently running ads. Rudy Giuliani is running radio ads only.

Mitt Romney, the frontrunner and biggest TV ad spender among Republicans in Iowa, is now running one called “Our Home,” featuring his wife.

ANN ROMNEY, Wife of Mitt Romney: Mitt says there’s no work more important than what goes on within the four walls of the American home. And that’s the way it was in our home.

JEFFREY BROWN: Fred Thompson, the last to enter the race, calls his latest ad “Consistent Conservative.”

FORMER SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), Tennessee: And if we stick to our basic conservative principles, we will win next November, and the United States of America will be better for it.

JEFFREY BROWN: And Ron Paul, flush with money raised online, has produced a new ad focusing on Iraq and the budget.

REP. RON PAUL (R), Texas: Once we stop wasting trillions overseas, we can cut the budget and still help people who need it.

Greater emphasis on Iowa

JEFFREY BROWN: It will air in Iowa within the next few days.

And for a closer look at the ad activity, we turn to Kay Henderson, news director of Radio Iowa, a statewide news network. She's been covering Iowa politics for more than 20 years.

And Evan Tracey, who monitors ads for TNS Media Intelligence, a non-partisan media research firm that tracks political and public affairs advertising.

Well, Evan Tracey, starting with you, to the extent that campaigns and ads are all about timing and getting it right, where are we now?

EVAN TRACEY, Campaign Media Analysis Group: Well, it's go time right now for the campaigns. We're in this phase where you essentially have a run-up to Iowa. Because of the calendar, compressed in the back end with the February 5 states, you're seeing a greater emphasis, especially by the Democrats, placed on Iowa, and that's very evident in their ad strategies.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are there some large themes that you can pick out? When you think about the cycle of a campaign, where they're introducing themselves, and then they're trying to distinguish themselves, what do you see now?

EVAN TRACEY: The themes are very consistent with what was in your piece as far as the candidates themselves. I mean, Senator Clinton's ads look very much like general election ads. She's talking about health care and words like "trapdoors" and "left behind."

And you look at Obama's ads, and they're very much like a movement-based, you know, very much excitement, lots of crowd shots. And the recent spots by Senator Edwards which, again, are really aimed at what I think are just rank-and-file caucus-goers in the state there. So campaigns or their public persona is really being played out in well-produced spots at this point.

JEFFREY BROWN: Kay Henderson, how does it feel on the ground? Do you see themes that way? And do you see a new urgency there?

O. KAY HENDERSON, Radio Iowa: Well, there is a new urgency here. And if you look at these ads in total, I think you would see a change message in most of the ads, surprisingly even on the part of Mitt Romney. He's running an ad right now in Iowa about immigration, talking about how he would do things differently on immigration, talking about his record in Massachusetts. So I see a change message being articulated by a lot of these ads.

Shots from campaign events

JEFFREY BROWN: Staying with you, do the candidates try to match the ads with the traditional retail politics there in Iowa? Or do they somehow use them differently from the stump speech?

O. KAY HENDERSON: Well, it's curious. The ads that Edwards, Obama and Clinton are currently running actually feature video that was shot from actual campaign events.

The other interesting thing in the Fred Thompson ad, which was mentioned a few moments ago, most of the people in that ad are older, and some are quite old. He shakes hands with an elderly couple at the very beginning of the ad. And that, of course, speaks to the fact that most caucus-goers in Iowa are older voters.

JEFFREY BROWN: Evan, what's the spending situation compared to other cycles, other campaigns?

EVAN TRACEY: Well, we're already passed historic levels, as far as the Iowa spending goes. If you look at Obama, soon Clinton, Edwards -- excuse me, not Edwards, Richardson, and Romney, they've already spent more now on Iowa TV than John Kerry spent in all of 2003 and 2004, the eventual winner of the Iowa caucus. We're seeing the candidates spending between $40,000 and $70,000 a day in Iowa.


EVAN TRACEY: A day. And, again, this is a pace that is normally reserved for the last couple of weeks. And we've been really at these levels, you know, probably for 90 days out of the caucus date.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we're focusing on Iowa here. Give us a comparison to New Hampshire.

EVAN TRACEY: It's almost no comparison. I mean, I think if you stack up the dollars, it's close to three to one, as far as what's been spent in Iowa versus what's been spent in New Hampshire. Only recently have candidates start to buy the ever-important Boston media market for getting into New Hampshire.

It's very expensive, and it shows a real commitment on the campaigns' part to see their buys branch out into the Boston market. So far we haven't seen Senator Clinton's campaign do that. It's been really Obama and also Senator McCain which are clearly two campaigns that are going to need an early win.

Voters pick up on campaign themes

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Kay Henderson, as this ad blitz gets going here, can you tell how much the populace is engaged with it or potentially turned off by it at this point?

O. KAY HENDERSON: Actually, I had a conversation today with a campaign staffer here in Iowa, and he indicated that their testing of these ads shows that they're working, that the voters are parroting back to them the messages in these ads. So from their perspective, their ad campaign is paying off.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about with someone -- we were talking about Mitt Romney being so far ahead on the Republican side. Do Iowans notice that? Does it help? Or could something like that backfire when you're so far ahead in spending money for ads?

O. KAY HENDERSON: Well, one of the remarkable things about the Romney campaign ad is that I think he's had sort of the breakout ad on the Republican side. It was an ad in which you see Mitt Romney literally running. And at the end of the ad, as he's running, he says, "I'm Mitt Romney, and I approved this message."

It was just something you don't normally see. It was like one of those Geico ads that sort of caught your eye, because it's not normal that you see a presidential candidate running across your television screen.

On the Democratic side, Bill Richardson had really good play from some ads that he ran in the late spring. They were resume ads. They were a little bit of humorous. And he was able to sort of buoy himself in the polls. He quit running those advertisements in late summer, and his poll numbers declined.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do you see, Evan, in terms of ads bumping up against each other and potentially backfiring with them?

EVAN TRACEY: Well, I mean, I think at this point you have to say that Governor Romney's campaign has been immensely helped by his ad buys. I mean, he's really gone from part of the third- or second-tier, really, into the discussion about, you know, actually going on and winning the nomination.

So he's really done it 30 seconds at a time. I mean, if you look at his ad buys, we've had probably close to 14,000 airings of Romney commercials. So he's really built the brand.

And I think that, you know, it's exactly that where you're seeing the campaigns trying to use their ads now, in essence, in that sort of silver-bullet mode. They're trying to get an ad that's going to really propel them to the top.

And the problem right now is you have distinct frontrunners in both parties. The difference is the Republican frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani, has more ads in The New York Times than he does on Des Moines television right now. So it's an interesting race from that standpoint.

Ads to increase during holidays

JEFFREY BROWN: And on the Democratic side, who do you look to, to try to break out for that silver-bullet moment you're talking about?

EVAN TRACEY: Well, I mean, clearly in Iowa right now, Edwards, Obama have got to make a move on Senator Clinton. I mean, again, if you look at the emphasis that all the campaigns are putting into Iowa with their ad spending, you know, clearly they're looking for some kind of decisive win there.

I think other candidates, like Richardson and Dodd, are looking to get their ticket punched in New Hampshire. So a little bit different strategy, I think, from the Democrats right now than we're seeing from Republicans.

JEFFREY BROWN: Kay Henderson, it's pretty clear that, as we move into the holiday season, these ads are just going to expand. Is the expectation out there that it bumps up against the retail advertising?

O. KAY HENDERSON: It does, indeed. Our network did a story today about that very topic. Retailers are being notified by some television stations in Iowa that their ads, indeed, may be bumped as the Christmas holiday period looms, partly because the campaigns are willing to pay top dollar, absolutely as much as possible as those TV stations charge for those ads. And so, from a TV station's standpoint, they want that top dollar, and they bump some retailers.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Evan, that is top dollar at Christmas season, isn't it?

EVAN TRACEY: Oh, absolutely. I mean...

JEFFREY BROWN: So does that benefit the ones who have the most money?

EVAN TRACEY: Yes, absolutely, having money is going to be an advantage. I mean, the stations are going to have to offer time to all the federal candidates. The thing to watch right now is what role a 527 might try and play.


EVAN TRACEY: The independent expenditure groups that are now commonly known as "swift boating," when those start to come into play, because, again, these are nontraditional advertisers. There's no rate card for these. And, again, it's a one-day-of-sale business. So in other words, it doesn't matter if you have ads the day after the caucus. So it's a "use them or lose them" -- is the equation.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Evan Tracey and Kay Henderson, thanks very much.