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Yes, you are being bombarded by political ads

Christinia Crippes, The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa –

Even if it seems obvious Iowans have been bombarded by political advertising for the past six months, it still may surprise residents to know the numbers behind the campaign commercials they watch or mute or walk away from.

A statewide project to review television stations’ records for presidential campaign advertisements from March 26 to Aug. 26 shows Iowans, and some residents just outside the state’s border, have seen nearly 100,000 advertising spots, for which the campaigns spent nearly $30 million.

Because southeast Iowans are in television markets from Quincy, Ill., the Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids and even Ottumwa, there’s little area residents can do to avoid political ads, unless they invest in a digital video recorder.

But there are markets in the region that get far fewer spots than others. To best avoid regular interruptions for political ads, the area’s viewers should tune to KHQA, CBS channel 7; WGEM, NBC channel 10; or KYOU, Fox channel 2.

That’s because KHQA and WGEM, both based in Quincy, have the fewest presidential political spots airing in the state, with fewer than one per hour. Ottumwa-based KYOU is in the state’s second smallest market and averages one spot per hour.

Other stations southeast Iowans get are based in the Quad Cities, as well as Cedar Rapids’ KCRG, which broadcasts in the Mount Pleasant area. The Quad Cities market has the most spending on political advertising, but it’s in the middle of the pack in terms of the number of spots aired.

Only the four broadcast channels – NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox – and Mediacom cable channels were included in this counting exercise. In all, about a third of the spots purchased were on cable.

A review showed 97,464 spots were purchased in 1,511 ad buys by, or on behalf of, Democratic President Barack Obama or Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said the inundation of advertisements may let up, now that early voting is set to start Thursday. But to the disappointment of many TV watchers, he doesn’t expect that to happen unless internal polling starts from either candidate to show one or the other pulling ahead or falling behind by enough to focus efforts elsewhere.

“My guess is we will get a bigger rush,” Hagle said. “At this point, it looks like Iowa is going to stay pretty close all the way through Election Day, and so, if that’s the case, then the campaigns will probably pour it on, because for both of them, it may come down to Iowa, or one of a handful of other fairly small states.”

Though Iowa casts just six electoral votes, because the state tilts neither Democratic or Republican, it could make the difference in a close race. And if the race stays tight, then millions of dollars for political ads will continue to flow in.

That’s evidenced by the spending compared to other toss-up states.

Washington, D.C.-based magazine National Journal examined each of a dozen swing states and found more spending in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia since May than in Iowa. But each of those states has more electoral votes than Iowa.

Iowa has more spending than Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico, according to National Journal data.

Hagle said, too, there may be another reason for Obama’s focus on the state, aside from its electoral votes.

“It’s not surprising that Obama has a soft spot for Iowa, since we gave him his start,” Hagle said, referring to his unexpected caucus win in 2008 over then-frontrunner Hillary Clinton. “George W. Bush was the same way, that we gave him his start, (and) he was always very happy to come back to Iowa and had a very soft spot for Iowa. So, clearly, Obama does not want to lose Iowa.”

He said because Romney also spent time here as a presidential hopeful in 2008, he may also think he can do well here. Hagle said, too, the Republican voter registration advantage in the state also may be a reason to believe Romney can claim Iowa’s electoral votes.

Obama vs. Romney

Across the state, there were more ad buys and more money was spent on behalf of Romney, but fewer spots were purchased.

On behalf of the Obama camp, there were 660 buys, 51,342 ads aired and $13,874,266 spent from March 26. to Aug. 26. On behalf of the Romney camp, there were 851 buys, 46,122 spots aired and $15,746,273 spent during the same time frame.

Ad rates vary depending on the time, date or program the spot airs, which would be why more money was spent on behalf of Romney for fewer ads.

Though the Burlington-Quincy market had the fewest spots, there were more than five times as many spots on behalf of Obama than aired on behalf of Romney.

With $214,957 spent, there were 1,672 spots aired on behalf of Obama. With $77,200 spent, there were 247 spots aired on behalf of Romney.

Romney’s campaign itself did not spend money in the Burlington-Quincy market during the reporting period. All the campaign spots on his behalf were from the super political action committee Crossroads GPS, a brainchild of Bush strategist Karl Rove.

There were 25,870 ads by both camps in the Sioux City market, which aired the most ads, but the Romney camp had about 5,000 more spots than on behalf of the Obama camp.

Of eight Iowa markets, there were five where advertising on behalf of Obama was greater.

In the Quad Cities, there were 8,543 spots on behalf of Romney and 7,951 spots on behalf of Obama.

In all markets, nearly all of Obama’s spots were paid for by his own campaign, Obama for America. Of the 51,342 spots that aired, 50,716 were by Obama for America. With about $100,000 combined, the other spots were paid for by the super PAC Priorities USA and a joint effort of OFA and the Democratic National Committee. The latter effort bought just 74 spots in the past five months.

Ads on behalf of Romney were funded by six super PACs and through the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee. The most spots purchased on behalf of Romney were by Crossroads GPS, with 15,627 spots. The Romney for President campaign had the next most spots, with 12,868.

Romney for President spent more than twice as much on its ads, with $5,678,030, than Crossroads, which spent $2,651,257.

The other PACs that spent money on behalf of Romney in Iowa markets are Restore Our Future, Americans for Prosperity, Concerned Women for America, American Crossroads, American Future Fund and American Energy Alliance. There also were two buys, with 700 spots, that were from other groups.

Aside from Romney for President and Crossroads GPS, Restore Our Future, Americans for Prosperity and Mitt Romney/RNC all spent more than $1 million each on ads over the past five months.

Though there is expected to be more spending than in 2008, Hagle said it’s still a “wait and see” on what the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision will be on the election. The decision allowed for unlimited spending by outside groups, like the super political action committees spending so much money on behalf of Obama and Romney, in political advertising. As Hagle put it, the decision said money is speech for the purposes of political spending.

So far, with the super PAC money included, Obama is being outspent by just under $2 million. Without the super PAC money, Obama’s campaign is spending more than Romney’s by about $8 million in Iowa.

Hagle agreed, though, the super PACs have focused on more negative advertising than the presidential candidates have. Of course, he agrees the negative ads continue to be used because they work.

Dollars and spots

Of the stations that reach The Hawk Eye’s readership area, there was a total of $11,749,424 spent between March 26 and Aug. 26. Most of that spending – $9,165,152 – is from the Quad Cities stations, KWQC, WQAD, WHBF, KLJB and Mediacom.

But the distinction for the most spots went to the Sioux City market, where viewers were subjected to an average of six political spots an hour or an average of 149 spots per day.

Hagle couldn’t be sure why Sioux City had the most ads but said since Romney was not the official nominee, the intention was to continue the drumbeat against Obama while keeping his name before potential voters.

By comparison, the southeast Iowa-Quincy market had an average of 11 spots per day. But since many Burlington residents get the Quad Cities stations, they were likely seeing about four presidential campaign spots per hour on those television stations.

Hagle said the focus on towns near the border may be intentional, to remind voters in neighboring safe blue states and red states to cast ballots.

While Sioux City and the Quad Cities are targeted, other near-border markets like Burlington’s and Ottumwa’s were not as heavily hit.

KWQC, based in Davenport, had the most campaign spending in the state, with more than $5 million since March 26. The next closest in terms of spending was Des Moines-based KCCI, which got $3.82 million, then WHO in Des Moines, with $2.56 million.

The Des Moines-Ames market has the highest number of viewers of any Iowa market. The 2012 nationwide rank for Des Moines is 72nd, reaching 431,300 homes, according to media research firm Nielsen Co. The Quad Cities market is 100th largest nationwide, reaching 307,050 homes, with Sioux City ranking 147th, by reaching 157,060 homes in 2012.

Political action committees and campaigns spent $170,855 at WGEM in Quincy, Ill., and $11,370 at GGEM, an affiliate of WGEM.

KHQA had $101,232 in political spending between March 26 and Aug. 26. Its affiliate NHQA received $8,700.

The WGEM and KHQA market area is ranked 171st, reaching 104,790 homes.

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