Opinion: Television stations are big winners in the ‘08 campaign

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One special interest -- television stations -- profited mightily from the prolonged nature of the Democratic presidential battle.

A study released today found that close to $200 million has been spent so far on televised ads by White House candidates in both parties -- with more than two-thirds of that figure accounted for by Democrats.

Indeed, the almost $75 million disbursed by Barack Obama’s campaign on TV ads easily surpassed the roughly $58 million in total spending by all Republican contenders. (The leading spender in the GOP race -- by a sizable margin -- remains Mitt Romney, who folded his campaign in early February.)

A spending chart -- so comprehensive it includes the handful of spots aired by obscure Republican aspirant Hugh Cort, plus the four ads that plugged the little noticed candidacy of Democrat Dal LaMagna -- can be studied here.

Deep in the report, Ken Goldstein, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, offers some noteworthy observations ...


... on the ad wars. These include:

* The word ‘change’ has been part of about 39% of Obama’s ads (a lower figure than we would have guessed), the word ‘experience’ cropped up in fewer than 2%.

* ‘Change’ was heard in 10% of Hillary Clinton’s ads, ‘experience’ in 15%. The latter figure is significantly lower than we would have presumed; intriguingly, the study found that the E-word disappeared from her ads at some point in April.

* Obama has out-narrated Clinton by a 2-to-1 margin. He provided the voice-over for 70% of his ads, Clinton did the same for 35% of her ads.

* The U.S. flags has cropped up in about 30% of Obama’s ads, it’s been featured in more than 60% of the spots for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain. (We’ll look for that margin to narrow over time in the now widely anticipated Obama-McCain matchup.)

* Since McCain wrapped up his party’s nod, the swing states he’s lavished ad time on have included Ohio, Iowa, New Mexico and West Virginia. (In a contest with Obama, we suspect McCain will continue to focus on the first three, but probably can afford to cut back on the last one and assume he will carry it.)

For all the success Obama and, to a lesser degree, Clinton have had in raising huge sums of money to help finance their ads, Goldstein provides a cautionary note. ‘A big story in this campaign,’ he says, ‘is the hundreds of millions of dollars that were not spent attacking John McCain in February, March, April, and now May of 2008.”

He goes on: ‘By any reasonable measure, the Democrats should win the presidency and strengthen their control of Congress. If they do not, the money that was not spent early on to define John McCain among swing voters in swing states ... may be one of the reasons.”

-- Don Frederick