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Candidates Spend a Record-Breaking $3 Billion on Ads

November 1, 2010 at 5:57 PM EDT
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Politicians campaigning to get their message across the airwaves spent almost $3 billion this year. Ray Suarez looks at this election's top campaign ads with Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

JIM LEHRER: Next, we look at how the midterm campaign has been waged on the air. Ray Suarez has more of that.

RAY SUAREZ: Spending on political television advertising could hit $3 billion for the midterms, a sum that proves just how vital the tool is for campaigns to get their message out.

We take a look at some of cycle’s top ads now with Evan Tracey of the Campaign Media Analysis Group. And broadcast and on cable and wall-to-wall, is this heavy volume for a midterm year?

EVAN TRACEY, chief operating officer, Campaign Media Analysis Group: Yes, it is. It’s probably going to be a record-setting year for any year, midterm or general election. And it’s being driven by the overall competitive landscape out there. When you have competitive races, that’s when the candidates spend.

There’s a lot at stake, so you’re seeing these television dollars, radio dollars, cable dollars basically flooding these competitive races in their media markets.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Evan, along with obviously conflicting views about the state of affairs in the United States, there was one country that kept popping up in political ads. Let’s take a look.

NARRATOR: Baron Hill supported the $800 billion failed stimulus package that created renewable energy jobs in China. His big-spending programs will force us to keep borrowing money from — you guessed it — China.

NARRATOR: Congresswoman Kilroy claims to create jobs. Too bad they’re made in China. That’s right. Kilroy voted for the failed stimulus that used our tax dollars to create jobs in China.

MAN: Too many of our jobs have gone to China. We need to bring them back.

MAN: Try telling your wife, your kids that you have been laid off.

NARRATOR: Jackie Walorski signed a pledge protecting tax breaks for corporations that send our jobs overseas.

TIM WALBERG (R-Mich.) congressional candidate: We’re getting jobs back from China.

MAN: Getting jobs back from China? What planet does Tim Walberg live on? Last time Tim Walberg was in Congress, he made it easier for companies to outsource jobs like mine. Why would he send him back again?

RAY SUAREZ: There is not a coincidence, right? There must be some research that shows that people have anxieties about China?

EVAN TRACEY: Yes, well, this is the — this election has been about sort of economic insecurities, whether it’s jobs, health care, you name it. And what’s interesting is China has been that sort of target of opportunity for the campaigns. And it is really the foreign policy issue of these elections.

There’s no talk about the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. It’s all about China. It’s all about, Democrats say, Republicans want to ship jobs to China. Republicans counter with, Democrats sent stimulus dollars to China. So, China is the foreign policy issue in election ads this year.

RAY SUAREZ: Immigration was also a hot-button issue, but the ads — the people running the ads were all on the R-side of the column. Let’s watch.

NARRATOR: Waves of illegal aliens streaming across our border, joining violent gangs, forcing families to live in fear. And what is Harry Reid doing about it? Voting to give illegal aliens Social Security benefits, tax breaks and college tuition.

MAN: An illegal alien crashed into a Baskin-Robbins store and killed my 3-year-old son, Marten. The illegal alien had been arrested 16 times, but never turned over to immigration because of the sanctuary city policies that Mayor Hickenlooper supports.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s no bill on the floor. There’s been no proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, yet it’s out there.

EVAN TRACEY: Right. This — this is an issue we saw spike with the Arizona law controversy. You saw Republican candidates especially latch on to immigration and use this all throughout their campaigns in not just — even in not just states where immigration is an issue. You saw this in states in the Northeast. You saw it in the middle of the country, as well as in border states.

And I think what the Tancredo ad, the second ad we showed there, if he should somehow come out as the winner in the Colorado’s governor race, it will be because of this ad. You — this — once he started running this ad, that’s really when you saw those polls tighten.

So, yes, Republicans have been on this issue. They have spent about $85 million in ads that talk about immigration, and really trying to attach this to their opponents, so a lot of talk in ads this year about immigration.

RAY SUAREZ: Also an attempt to be heard above the din. Some of the ads are funny in an attempt to sort of catch your eye and catch your ear. Let’s watch.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D-Colo.) gubernatorial candidate: I’m John Hickenlooper. And I guess I’m not a very good politician, because I can’t stand negative ads. Every time I see one, I feel like I need to take a shower. And you see a lot of them.

CHRISTINE O’DONNELL (R-Del.), Delaware Senatorial Candidate: I’m not a witch. I’m nothing you have heard. I’m you. None of us are perfect, but none of us can be happy with what we see all around us.

WOMAN: That’s why this year…

WOMAN: … I’m giving the two-party system the third finger.

MAN: The third finger.

MAN: The third finger.

MAN: The third finger.

MAN: The third finger.

MAN: The third finger!

MEN AND WOMEN: The third finger.

TRAVIS IRVINE, Ohio, congressional candidate: I’m Travis Irvine, and I approve this message, because it’s time to give the two-party system the third finger.

RAY SUAREZ: I’m not sure the third finger will be a memorable takeaway from this election the way “I’m not a witch” has already sort of entered the bloodstream of the culture.

EVAN TRACEY: Yes, I don’t think you will be able to really talk about election ads in this year without mentioning the “I’m not a witch” cycle, but it really does show there has been so little use of humor in this cycle.

Obviously, the bad economy and voter anxiety and the moods have really sort of made candidates sort of go right at opponents, and made this one of the more negative cycles we have seen. Certainly, we will be talking about “I’m not a witch.” The Hickenlooper spot was clever. It was early in the race.

But the third finger ad is really — it’s one of these I think interesting ones that we like in our office, because, at the end of these elections, with so little humor, to see a Libertarian candidate trying to get noticed in what are just overly cluttered media markets is pretty clever.

RAY SUAREZ: Joe Manchin, the governor of West Virginia, took a bill into his backyard and shot it. Let’s watch.

GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.VA): I’m Joe Manchin. I approve this ad, because I will always defend West Virginia.

As your senator, I will protect our Second Amendment rights. That’s why the NRA endorsed me. I will take on Washington and this administration to get the federal government off of our backs and out of our pockets. I will cut federal spending. And I will repeal the bad parts of Obamacare. I sued EPA, and I will take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill, because it’s bad for West Virginia.

RAY SUAREZ: Once he gets to Washington, if he gets to Washington, I guess he will just vote against things like this. But that’s a very striking visual image.

EVAN TRACEY: Right. We have never seen something like that before. This illustrates sort of the problem a lot of Democrats, and especially moderate Democrats, have had this cycle, is they have been in this anti-Washington climate. So, incumbents haven’t been able to go to their districts and talk about their accomplishments in Washington. You haven’t had a lot of victory laps on the health care bill.

The Manchin ad, if he’s to go on and win tomorrow night on election night, look, this ad is going to play a big part of that. I don’t think you can more just decouple yourself from an administration than shooting a bullet through one of their top priorities.

So, clearly, this is the box Democrats have been in, in a lot of these districts, just how do you just decouple yourself from Washington and this administration, because Republicans have been spending most of their money trying to figure out new ways to say Obama and Pelosi this cycle.

So, this is a dramatic attempt by the West Virginia governor to win that Senate seat is really trying to find a way to decouple himself from the administration. And it’s obviously a very powerful spot.

RAY SUAREZ: Evan Tracey, thanks a lot.

EVAN TRACEY: Great to be here. Thanks.