WASHINGTON — In past presidential races, a $7.5-million media campaign could give an outside group like the National Rifle Assn. a significant profile.
But that sum doesn’t go nearly as far in this year’s contest: super PACs and advocacy groups have already reported spending more than $892 million on television ads and other forms of voter outreach – more than three times than at this point in the 2008 campaign, according to the latest tally by the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s prompted some groups, such as the NRA, to think differently about how to reach voters on the airwaves – and it explains why swing state residents are having a hard time finding any television program that offers refuge from the relentless deluge of political ads.
Typically, political media strategists aim to run their ads during local newscasts, to capture viewers who are purportedly more civically engaged and likely to vote. But the NRA this year is spending a premium to place its spots lambasting President Obama during popular sports programs such ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” in key markets in battleground states.
The influential gun lobby is also buying time during late-night shows such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “The Late Show with David Letterman and “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”
The NRA is not the sole political advertiser in those time periods, but it is one of the most prevalent, often running several spots in one football game, said Republican media strategist Brad Todd, who is crafting the group’s ad campaign.
“We don’t have to compete with 18 other political ads,” said Todd, who said the group tested the strategy during this year’s Wisconsin gubernatorial recall to reach independent blue-collar voters.
The NRA ads are aimed beyond active hunters, at voters who are broadly sympathetic to the group’s advocacy of the 2nd Amendment – particularly men under 55.
That means sports and late-night viewers in cities such as Norfolk, Va., and Cleveland are getting a heavy dose of spots warning that Obama is “chipping away at your rights.”
“The best way to describe it is an old hunting analogy – when you go hunting, you go hunting where the ducks are,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
At the core of the group’s message is its prediction that in a second term, Obama will seek to curtail gun rights – even though gun control groups have complained that the president has done little to help their cause. But the NRA seized on a comment Obama made during the second presidential debate, building an ad around his suggestion that he would try to reintroduce an assault weapons ban.
So far, the NRA has spent around $7.5 million on television and radio spots, and more than $2 million on online ads, showcased on a website called GunBanObama.com.
The group’s political spending is dwarfed by groups such as American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together have reported spending more than $157 million so far.
But as we wrote in July, much of the NRA’s clout stems not from its political expenditures but from its ability to mobilize its 4 million members.
This year, the NRA has hired 25 field organizers to coordinate thousands of volunteers in battleground states. By election day, the group aims to have reached more than 50 million home through phone, mail and door-knocking, Arulanandam said.