President Barack Obama has stepped up television advertising in Florida, the biggest battleground in the Nov. 6 election, and in Wisconsin, the home state of his opponent’s running mate.
Mitt Romney is airing more ads in Ohio, historically a must-win for Republicans, than anywhere else. The Republican nominee also is focusing more on New Hampshire and less on North Carolina, the competitive state most likely to support him.
How Obama, Romney and allied groups are spending their advertising dollars in the nine states that the campaigns see as the most pivotal underscores their strategies for achieving a 270-vote Electoral College majority. The targeting of TV commercials offers evidence that the swing-state map is shrinking and that campaign calculations are changing.
“What’s keeping a media buyer awake at night is losing by 537 votes in Florida like Al Gore did” in the 2000 presidential election, the result that cost him the White House, said Ken Goldstein, president of New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks campaign advertising. This year’s presidential candidates and their allies “want to put as much lead” as possible in the right spots in the campaign’s waning days, Goldstein said.
Obama and allied groups ran more ads in Florida than in any other state during the seven-day period ending Oct. 22, CMAG data show. They supplied 7,937 ads in Florida during that time, compared to 6,323 in Ohio.
Florida, with its 29 electoral votes, is more of a must-win for Romney in his formula for reaching the 270 figure than for Obama, who won the state by fewer than three percentage points in 2008. Romney is running slightly ahead or even with Obama in Florida, polls show, and an Obama victory there probably would seal his re-election. At the least, the president’s ad barrage is aimed at keeping some of Romney’s resources pinned down in the state.
Romney trails Obama in polls in Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes and where the Republican and his allies are running more ads than in Florida. Romney and allied groups supplied 6,988 ads in Ohio in the week ending Oct. 22, compared to 5,906 in Florida. In addition, both campaigns have aired a few hundred ads each week on West Virginia stations that reach some southern Ohio voters.
No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio, which also has sided with the White House winner in 12 consecutive elections.
Importance to Obama
Ohio is integral to Obama’s strategy to create a firewall among mainly northern swing states to combat a late Romney surge that could give the Republican the southern battlegrounds of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
This path to victory for the president includes carrying Iowa and Wisconsin, a Democratic-leaning state in presidential elections that became a late battleground after Romney selected Representative Paul Ryan of Janesville to be his running mate. Obama and Democrats ran 3,860 ads in Wisconsin in the Oct. 16-22 period, a 55 percent increase over the previous week.
As Obama ads spiked in Wisconsin, Romney augmented his ads in New Hampshire to match Obama in a state where the president had been dominant on television. Romney and Republicans ran 54 percent of presidential ads in New Hampshire during the seven days ending Oct. 22, up from 10 percent the previous week.
Romney, who had been advertising only in Manchester, New Hampshire, began airing spots on Oct. 20 on Boston stations that reach southern New Hampshire. The Romney ads on the Boston stations included two, at a cost of $65,000 apiece, broadcast during an Oct. 21 National Football League game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, filings with the Federal Communications Commission show.
Both the Obama and Romney campaigns are airing ads on stations in Portland, Maine, that reach some New Hampshire voters. Obama also is advertising on stations in Burlington, Vermont, that bleed into New Hampshire.
By running ads in every market enveloping New Hampshire, Obama is “buttoning down” the state as part of his effort to protect his re-election bid against Romney’s rise in the more Republican-friendly South, said Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
That Obama and Romney would expend so much effort to win a state with only four electoral votes also demonstrates the closeness of their race to the 270-vote finish line.
The latest advertising data also suggest that the bloc of swing states is shrinking to eight, with both campaigns treating North Carolina as likely to back Romney.
In a sign of confidence, Romney and Republicans ran about 1,000 fewer ads in the state during the seven days ending Oct. 22 than in the previous week, a 32 percent decrease, CMAG data show. The Romney national team also has shifted some campaign staff members out of the state.
North Carolina backed Obama by just three-tenths of one percentage point in the 2008 election, his smallest margin of victory in any state. In a sign of a scaled-back Obama effort to win it again, he hasn’t personally campaigned in the state since the Democratic National Convention wrapped up on Sept. 6 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Also, while North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes make it the third biggest prize among swing states -- after Florida and Ohio -- Obama and his allies ran more ads in seven of the other battlegrounds in the seven-day period ending Oct. 22.
Priorities USA Action, the main super-political action committee backing Obama’s re-election, hasn’t advertised in North Carolina at all. Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist who is advising the super-PAC, said on Oct. 22 on CNN that the Obama campaign had given up on the state.
Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, told reporters on Oct. 23 that North Carolina “absolutely” remains in play and he pointed to a robust early-vote operation for the president in the state.
“We continue to feel like North Carolina is a neck-and-neck race,” Messina said.
Sarah Pompei, a Romney campaign spokeswomen, said in an e-mail that, as the campaign has reached its homestretch, it’s become clear that the Republican’s message “has resonated strongly with North Carolinians.”