Sen. John F. Kerry and groups supporting his election spent more than three times as much on television commercials in the last month as President Bush and his allies, widening the surprise Democratic advantage in paid advertising.
Kerry and the groups allied to the Democratic cause spent nearly $25 million on television in the 30 days ending Saturday, compared to $7.3 million for Bush and the Republicans, according to the monitoring conducted for the Los Angeles Times by TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group.
Although Bush has raised more money than any previous presidential candidate, the analysis reveals that Kerry’s campaign -- with its own direct spending -- has now purchased almost as much television advertising as the president since general election commercials from the two sides began airing in early March.
And when independent groups supporting Kerry -- such as MoveOn.org, the AFL-CIO and the Media Fund -- are included, the total television spending for the Democratic side exceeds the total spending for Bush by nearly 60%.
The figures underscore the extent to which Democrats have defied predictions and blunted the financial advantage that Bush had four months ago, when Kerry effectively clinched his party’s presidential nomination. At that point, the Massachusetts senator was short on money while Bush had more than $100 million.
“Everyone on both sides underestimated the grass-roots energy in the Democratic side,” said Erik Smith, president of Media Fund. The ad war has been confined almost entirely to a shifting list of 21 battleground states, which include Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. Voters in other states -- even ones as large as California, Texas and New York -- have seen none of the commercials, apart from airings on national cable television networks.
In the next several weeks, the Democratic advantage may increase and then shrink, at least somewhat. That is because the Bush campaign appears to have decided to husband its resources for a major advertising blitz after the four-day Democratic convention, which starts July 26 in Boston.
“We are going to focus on this thing like gangbusters after the convention,” said a Republican source familiar with planning by the reelection campaign and who asked not to be named. “The thinking is let Kerry go ahead and outspend; this is your month, July.”
Yet even if Bush outspends Kerry in August, it appears likely the bottom line for such expenditures will be tilted much more toward the Democrats than appeared possible when the general election campaign effectively began in early March.
“The extent to which Kerry has been able to raise money since he emerged as the [presumed] nominee ... has been truly extraordinary,” said Anthony Corrado, a campaign finance expert at Colby College in Maine.
Raised Since March
Through June, Kerry had raised about $182 million, most of it since early March. Bush had raised about $216 million through May, the latest figures available from his campaign.
Matthew Dowd, Bush’s chief campaign strategist, said he had always expected the combined Democratic advertising to exceed the president’s own efforts. “On March 3, when we started [the campaign’s advertising], I said they were going to outspend us, and everybody sort of guffawed,” he said. “That’s just what they did and they are going to outspend us going forward.”
Dowd was virtually alone among political experts in making that prediction because Bush enjoyed such an overwhelming financial advantage. At the end of February, Bush had $110 million in the bank, while Kerry’s cash on hand had dwindled to $2.4 million, according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Bush then launched a massive television barrage against Kerry, spending an average of at least $4.5 million a week through mid-April, according to TNSMI/CMAG. Since the group only tracks advertising in the nation’s 100 largest media markets, the total spending was even larger.
Kerry spent about $1.3 million a week on average through mid-April, according to TNSMI/CMAG. In those weeks, Democrats depended heavily on anti-Bush advertising from groups that operate independently of the Kerry campaign -- particularly Media Fund and MoveOn.org Voter Fund. These are among organizations known as 527s -- named after a provision in the tax code -- that have proliferated in this campaign season.
Kerry’s campaign significantly escalated its ad purchases as contributions began pouring into it. (He has now raised more than any other Democratic presidential contender.) Kerry outspent Bush on television in May and expanded his advantage in recent weeks, as the Bush campaign took its ads off the air from June 18 through last Friday.
According to the ad tracking data, from June 11 through July 10, the Kerry campaign bought nearly $16.9 million in television ads, compared to $5.2 million for Bush.
Over that period, Kerry outspent Bush in every state where the two sides have focused their advertising. In Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the three largest states both sides are actively contesting, Kerry outspent Bush by about 3 to 1, the data show.
As a result, the total advertising expenses by the two sides since early March -- not taking into account spending by 527 groups -- are about even in most of the 21 states they have targeted. Kerry has outspent Bush in 16 of those states and Bush outspent Kerry in five, but in most cases the difference between the two sides is small.
Overall, the Bush campaign has spent slightly more on advertising than Kerry: $68.9 million for the president compared to $67.8 million for the Democrat, according to the data. But Kerry may take the lead by the end of July.
Spending by Groups
The big boost for the Democrats has come in the spending by the 527 organizations and other political groups. The groups supporting Kerry have poured nearly $43 million into advertising since early March, according to the TNSMI/CMAG tracking. Conservative and Republican groups backing Bush have combined for less than $1 million in independent spending, the data show.
These figures lift the total Democratic ad spending since early March to nearly $110.5 million, compared to $70 million for the GOP.
Democrats are bracing for another GOP offensive next month. After Kerry accepts the Democratic nomination in Boston on July 29, he is limited to spending the roughly $75 million he will receive in public funds for the campaign’s final months. But Bush can continue to spend his campaign’s private donations until he accepts the Republican nomination on Sept. 2 at the party’s convention in New York.
Democrats and many independent analysts are expecting the Bush campaign to flood the airwaves in August as heavily as it did last March.
Asked if Bush was planning to devote significantly more money to television next month than in June or July, Dowd responded: “I’m not going to answer that, but we have to spend every dollar by our convention.”
As of the end of May, the Bush campaign had $63 million in the bank.
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Tracking the spending
Boosted by strong fundraising, the Kerry campaign’s television ad spending has surged past President Bush. Below are the Bush and Kerry campaigns’ week-by-week spending totals on TV ads in the top 100 markets; the numbers include expenditures only by the campaigns, not by the independent groups supporting them. Bush Kerry Week Bush Kerry Advantage Advantage
3/03-3/07 $2,686,439 $2,227 -$2,684,212 3/8 - 3/14 $4,983,243 $260,064 -$4,723,179 3/15-3/21 $4,571,524 $1,401,987 -$3,169,537 3/22-3/28 $5,041,987 $1,504,958 -$3,537,029 3/29-4/4 $5,018,732 $1,555,830 -$3,462,902 4/5-4/11 $5,299,704 $1,813,505 -$3,486,199 4/12-4/18 $4,036,799 $2,263,636 -$1,773,163 4/19-4/25 $2,197,483 $2,211,519 $14,036 4/26-5/2 $4,433,554 $3,016,435 -$1,417,119 5/3-5/9 $6,125,956 $9,629,605 $3,503,649 5/10-5/16 $4,671,210 $7,963,572 $3,292,362 5/17-5/23 $5,444,150 $7,893,757 $2,449,607 5/24-5/30 $4,610,267 $3,351,921 -$1,258,346 5/31-6/6 $2,563,369 $4,723,727 $2,160,358 6/14-6/20 $4,069,826 $5,719,624 $1,649,798 6/21-6/27 $441,779 $5,674,254 $5,232,475 6/28-7/4 $22,835 $930,534 $907,699 7/5-7/10 $1,115,836 $4,100,090 $2,984,254
Totals $67,334,693 $64,017,245
Sources: TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group. Graphics reporting by Kathleen Hennessey Los Angeles Times