Parties get bang for the buck in early spending

Six weeks before the mid-term elections, the race to succeed Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) in New York’s 24th congressional district could be considered the most competitive in the country based on television advertising spending.

Six weeks before the mid-term elections, the race to succeed Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) in New York’s 24th congressional district could be considered the most competitive in the country based on television advertising spending.

The House Republican and Democratic campaign committees have spent close to $1 million on independent expenditure advertisements in New York’s 24th district where they can they can get a big bang for their buck because the cost of buying airtime is cheap.

“Where the independent expenditures go definitely tells you where they think the races are,” said Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, adding that other factors like polling data, local politics, demographic trends, and previous election counts determine the most competitive race in the country.

Several political analysts, including Walter, consider the race between Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) and Democrat Patricia Madrid to be the most competitive in the country given spending on advertising, the district’s political make-up and demographics and public polls.

But everything else equal, an analysis of spending on independent expenditure advertising relative to the cost of airtime provides a clear signal of where each party is eyeing to pick up seats – and where they are fighting to hold onto seats.

Campaigns buy airtime measured in gross ratings points. One ratings point equals, on average, one percent of the total television household audience in a particular media market. If a campaign buys 1,000 points, which is considered necessary to saturate the airwaves, the average viewer will see the advertisement 10 times during a week.

In high priced media markets, campaigns usually will wait until the last weeks of the campaign to engage in the slugfest on the airwaves. For example, the Senate campaign committees are running advertisements in Montana and Tennessee, but they have remained off the air in New Jersey – where airtime can cost up to $1,300 per point – even though some polls show Republican Tom Kean Jr. running ahead or even with Sen. Robert Menendez (D). Spending now would simply eat up too much money.

Lower cost media markets allow the committees to be creative in some congressional districts. In New York’s 24th district, airtime costs $25 per point in Utica, $70 per point in Syracuse and $23 a point in Binghamton. The low costs have allowed the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to light up the airwaves.

The NRCC has spent approximately $485,000 on airtime and the committee has conducted two polls since late August to help state Sen. Ray Meier (R-N.Y.) defeat Democrat Mike Arcuri, the Oneida County district attorney.

The DCCC has spent more than $450,000 on advertising and production costs and $76,000 in direct mail, based on a review of independent expenditures since Aug. 29 from Political Money Line, which tracks campaign contributions, and figures provided by the DCCC.

The committees also have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the race in Pennsylvania’s 10th district, which includes Scranton, Pa., where Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa.), hampered by a scandal stemming from a lawsuit he settled with his mistress who accused him of strangling her, is fighting for his political life.

The NRCC scooped up more than $260,000 in airtime in mid-September while the DCCC bought $94,000. The GOP’s ads, in a theme President Bush began to echo last week in a speech in Florida, warn voters that Democrat Chris Carney will raise taxes if elected. In his own ads, Carney has accused the NRCC of lying about his record.

In Green Bay, Wis., the NRCC has spent more than $366,000 this month to help state Rep. John Gard (R-Wis.) defeat Democrat Steve Kagen, a physician. The DCCC has spent more than $240,000 on advertising since Aug. 31. The spending does not include the costs of producing the advertisements.

Finally, in Indiana, the NRCC has spent $364,000 this month on negative advertising, excluding production costs, against Democrat Brad Ellsworth, who is running a spirited race against Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.). The GOP also spent $22,000 on a direct mail piece.

The DCCC has been in the game since July when an NRCC advertisement alleged that Ellsworth, a local sheriff, released a child molester from jail while he was campaigning in Washington, D.C. The prisoner was mistakenly released. In September, the Democrats have shelled out more than $240,000 to hit Hostettler on television.

Moreover, the spending patterns also indicate that candidates are penalized for not reserving time early in a race; the longer a campaign waits, the more expensive airtime becomes. Spending jumped in the last week of September.