ELECTIONATE JULY 25, 2012
If, like me, you live in the D.C. area and your housemate has been watching “Jeopardy” over the last few weeks, you’ve probably gotten to hear Romney singing “America the Beautiful” pretty regularly and you may be wondering if the sheer number of political ads have sky-rocketed. If you've noticed that too, you’re not delusional: Washington has started to get the full treatment from both campaigns, and that’s probably going to last until November.
According to the newest numbers from The Washington Post, the campaigns have begun to pour dollars into the critical Washington media market (critical because of the voters in Northern Virginia, not the actual Washingtonians). Last week, the campaigns, along with allied-Super PACs, invested $1.8 million in Washington—that's more than any other media market. During the first week of July, that number was just $213,000, less than Davenport, Iowa. Given the expense of the Washington market, it’s quite possible that the Washington airwaves are less saturated than other markets. But anyone watching “Jeopardy”—or any other TV programming—in D.C. would probably agree that the airwaves are quite saturated.
Who’s driving the shift? Well, everyone, but mainly Romney and his allies. Neither Romney nor Crossroads were airing ads in Washington three weeks ago, but this week, Romney spent $439,000—more than any other market—and Crossroads added an additional $370,000. Over the same period, Obama’s ad buy doubled from $213,000 to $537,000.
Unsurprisingly, Romney and allies have launched the same attacks that they’re launching nationally: Obama’s record on jobs, the debt, the stimulus, and Solyndra. But the Obama campaign has taken a somewhat more nuanced approach. In addition to “American the Beautiful,” the Obama campaign is also attacking Romney’s record on abortion and women’s health, and particularly his statements on Planned Parenthood. Presumably, voters in Roanoke and Richmond aren’t treated to the same content.
So why the big change? Well, there are two possible explanations. There could have been some sort of a shift in the political disposition of Northern Virginia that prodded the campaigns to get involve. While that’s possible, it seems somewhat unlikely. The more mundane truth might simply be that the campaigns were adhering to an old rule about political advertisement: You don’t go on the air until you can sustain it. The Romney campaign probably waited until they had the resources to sustain a concerted ad campaign in an expensive market and then launched a full effort. Expect the siege to last until November, since Obama's margin in the suburbs and exurbs of Northern Virginia could easily decide the election.