Ad Wars Go National

By: Wall Street Journal

As the Campaign Heats Up McCain, Obama Seek Broad Impact; Others Pick Spots

With five days left before Super Tuesday, presidential campaign ads have gone national — yet some candidates are on the airwaves in more of the country than others.

In a last big push before 24 states hold primary elections and caucuses, yesterday Republican hopeful Mitt Romney announced his first round of campaign advertisements since his loss to Arizona Sen. John McCain in Florida. Mr. McCain responded with a round of national cable-TV ads, which will begin airing today, along with a local ad buy in Missouri. The McCain campaign also will introduce at least one new TV spot before Feb. 5, a campaign official said.

Democratic contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have unleashed ads in expensive metropolitan markets in recent days amid tightening Super Tuesday polls. Yesterday, the Obama campaign announced an aggressive ad buy in states voting after Feb. 5, including Nebraska, Virginia and Maryland. Neither Democratic campaign will discuss the amount spent on this round of ads.

A Romney spokesman said the former Massachusetts governor’s new ads, which focus on the economy and emphasize his business experience, would run in California and other Feb. 5 states. He called the ad buys “significant” but declined to give details on their cost. Mr. Romney has used millions from his personal fortune to bolster his campaign spending. (View the “Experience Matters” ad from the Romney campaign.)

“It is really a tale of two races,” said Evan Tracey of TNS Media Intelligence, a media consulting firm. “The Republicans have done very little advertising beyond Florida, and they seem content to puddle jump from primary to primary.”

Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, who have raised more money than their Republican counterparts, skipped campaigning in Florida. They have been on the airwaves in Super Tuesday states since late last week, starting their multistate blitzes with ads appearing in California, New Mexico, Georgia, Utah and elsewhere.

The Democrats’ ads, while consistent with messages introduced in earlier primaries, highlight important differences between the campaigns. Mr. Obama’s latest paid-media move is aimed at gaining ground in as many states as possible and uses a range of endorsements in a bid to overcome Mrs. Clinton’s lead in most state polls. The Obama campaign also bought ad time on cable news networks CNN and MSNBC last week, making Mr. Obama the first candidate from either party to run national ads.

Mrs. Clinton has focused her message more narrowly, with ads airing in just 12 of the 22 states where Democrats will vote Tuesday. (Watch the latest Clinton ad on the economy, via YouTube.)

“Advertising is more important to Obama than it is to Hillary,” said Steve Murphy, a strategist with Bill Richardson’s now-defunct campaign and a partner in Murphy Putnam Media Inc. “She’s universally known, and he’s not. So that relative advantage he has on advertising is somewhat neutralized.”

Mr. Obama continued to expand his aggressive paid-media posture Wednesday, with television and radio spots hitting the airwaves in 21 Super Tuesday states. Illinois, Mr. Obama’s home state and the only Feb. 5 arena where he leads in the polls, won’t see local broadcast ads, the campaign said.

In the face of Mr. Obama’s broad-brush approach, the Clinton campaign responded Wednesday with a targeted ad buy in the biggest Super Tuesday states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and California. The Clinton campaign yesterday also announced a 90-minute “town hall”-style live event that will be broadcast nationally on the Hallmark Channel on Monday evening.

The Clinton campaign also released two new economic-themed ads Wednesday. In one, dubbed “Freefall,” a skydiver plummets through the air before his parachute opens, as an announcer tells voters that Mrs. Clinton can “fix the economy and protect our future.”

The latest ads from the Obama campaign star his newest political asset: a cast of high-profile supporters, including Caroline Kennedy — who endorsed Mr. Obama along with her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.), on Monday. (View the Kennedy ad from the Obama campaign.)

And in a bid to woo Hispanic voters from the Clinton camp, Mr. Obama’s Spanish-language ads featuring Rep. Luis Gutierrez make a direct, emotional appeal to shared minority sentiment. “We know what it feels like being used as a scapegoat just because of our background and last name,” the Chicago Democrat says in the ad, now playing in Arizona and California.

The Clinton team introduced its own Spanish-language ad Wednesday. Mrs. Clinton appears in it alone, highlighting the familiarity she enjoys with voters in most states. (View the Clinton campaign’s “Nuestra Amiga” ad, on YouTube.)

“We’re talking about substance,” Clinton spokesperson Jano Cabrera said about the campaign’s ads. “There is more of an emphasis on their side to use surrogates as validators in these states where Obama isn’t as well known.”

Write to Aaron Rutkoff at

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