Google to allow candidates to target ads by House district

Political candidates will be able to target online ads to users within specific congressional districts under a new system unveiled by Google on Friday.

The feature is part of Google's AdWords product, which allows users to buy ads not only on Google, but on thousands of sites around the Web.

Advertisers previously had been able to display ads only to users within particular zip codes, but the new feature will allow targeting to any of the 435 congressional districts.

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The feature will be especially helpful for candidates running in oddly shaped districts, which may sprawl across sections of numerous zip codes. 

In a blog post, Charles Scrase, head of Google's politics and elections team, wrote that the tool will be more efficient than television advertisements, which may reach many viewers outside of the intended district.

"Now, with congressional district targeting in AdWords, campaigns can quickly and easily target their search, display, mobile and video ads *solely* within that particular district’s border," Scrase wrote.

The National Republican Congressional Committee already is using the feature to buy ads in five Democratic congressional districts. The committee's video ads target five Democrats—Reps. Nick Rahall (W. Va.) Rep. John Garamendi (Calif.), Mike Michaud (Maine) and Betty Sutton (Ohio)— who voted against a full extension of the Bush tax cuts.

Gerrit Lansing, digital director at the NRCC, said ads targeted by zip code can bleed into other districts and therefore waste money.

"Anytime you can be more be more specific in advertising, that's better," Lansing said in a phone interview. He said the group is spending $10,000 on each of the five ad campaigns and is considering spending in other districts as well.

Democrats have launched their own offensive with the new online tool.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted video ads to users in the districts of 23 House Republicans who voted for the tax-cut extension. The ads accuse the lawmakers of siding with millionaires over the middle class and seniors.

By making its political ads more effective, Google could gain a larger slice of the billions of dollars spent by campaigns every election cycle. Because of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, the 2012 campaign is expected to see an influx of spending from outside groups.

— Last updated at 3:50 p.m.