Here’s a statement about campaign advertising that may surprise you even if you’ve seen the influx of ads on TV and online video sites: “Candidates, parties and groups ran at least 10,300 TV ads in the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race.”
That statement comes from a project called “Who’s Buying the Senate?”
From now until Election Day we’ll check in on political advertising and spending each week with Dave Levinthal, Senior Political Reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, which put this ad tracking project together.
Interesting fact: you found that of all the TV stations in the country, no single station aired more ads in a U.S. Senate race than WMUR-TV in New Hampshire. Those ads seem, at least so far, to be evenly split between Jeanne Shaheen, the Democrat, and Republican Scott Brown.
Absolutely. It just shows what a competitive race this is, and that Scott Brown, even though he doesn’t have the advantage of incumbency, which of course Jeanne Shaheen has, that Republicans are doing everything they possibly can to support his candidacy.
People at the Hearst Corporation and WMUR must be loving this right now, because of all the attention that’s being paid to the Senate race and, because of that, to their television station.
If you’re a New Hampshire voter, though, you can’t turn on your TV set without seeing an ad – it works out to be pretty much a television ad about the US Senate race going up in New Hampshire, when you include the Boston stations too, once every about 6-7 minutes.
And who’s running these ads – the candidates? The parties? Outside groups? What do the ratios look like?
We broke down the numbers here for the last week. The Shaheen campaign itself is in the driver’s seat, and had about roughly a little more than 600 ads that it, in and of itself, produced for this past week. The Scott Brown campaign had about 450, so advantage Shaheen for the past week.
But we had a whole variety of outside political groups and party committees that have also done some advertising – and again, this is just in the past week. The big one was Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic-aligned Super PAC that had more than a hundred ads go up throughout New Hampshire. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had nearly a hundred.
But then you also had some Republican-aligned groups, those who are supporting Scott Brown. One Super PAC called Ending Spending Action Fund had about a hundred. And everyone knows who the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is – they came in with about 50 ads as well. Because of the nature of this U.S. Senate race, and how close it is, and with Republicans needing just six seats to grab control of the U.S. Senate, New Hampshire is really as prime a Senate race for national interest to focus on as any race across the country.
Some of the names behind some of these ads are familiar – the League of Conservation Voters, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And then there are these other groups that people might not know about, like Ending Spending or Next Generation Climate Change. Are these different players altogether, or are these players who have been involved in politics before, but with different names and different organizations?
Yes and no. You have some groups that have been around for years and years and years, are well established on the political scene. And then you have what are effectively pop-up political groups, that have maybe only been around for a year, or two years.
Some of them are nonprofit organizations, and because of the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission Supreme Court decision back in 2010, that allowed nonprofit organizations of a certain type to get involved directly in politics in a way that they never could have before. That gave rise to Super PACs and these politically active nonprofit groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money and directly advocate for and against politicians during an election season.
Often times when you see an ad, voters are scratching their heads, saying, okay, who is this group? Who’s behind them? What money is fueling them? We spend a lot of our time trying to ferret that out, figure out who is behind it, but if you’re just catching a TV ad, it’s not going to be obvious and evident to you who is behind a lot of these TV ads that you’re seeing, that are very lovingly promoting a candidate or violently railing against them.
You found that Democrats had run more ads in the past week than Republicans. How does this compare to the other high-profile Senate races in other parts of the country?
Over the past several weeks it’s been relatively close, Democrats and Republicans, when you paint the Senate races with a broad brush.
We did notice last week, though, that in some of the really key Senate races, where there’s a whole lot of money going into them, where the polls are showing them very tight, the Democrats have had a slight advantage when it comes to the TV ad air wars.
They’re producing more TV ads, and they’re being more aggressive with that type of messaging than the Republicans have, although it’s important to note that both are going full-in and really hard when it comes to all this spending that’s going on. You look at a place like North Carolina or Iowa or Alaska, that have these very hot Senate races.
There was news this week that Republicans are canceling TV ad buys in Michigan on behalf of the Senate candidate there. As parties and outside groups move out of a state, what happens in the remaining states? Do the ad buys just get bigger?
They potentially can and likely will. It’s just a dollars and cents game at that point. The political parties don’t have unlimited funds – they both have a lot of money, but when you’re trying to convince voters across many Senate races, not just one, to vote for the candidates that you support, you pretty much have to put your limited resources in the places where you think that you’re going to have the best bet of getting a candidate elected.
That’s probably bad news for certain candidates in certain states, like Michigan. Terry Lynn Land is probably not very happy about this right now, as the Republican nominee. But for other candidates, who are in pretty much the same boat, with the polls showing a very close race, they’re going to be all too happy to get a whole bunch of money from Washington, D.C., coming in and flowing into their races.
What are you going to be keeping an eye on over the coming week?
We’re going to be looking very closely at states like New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a very intriguing state because it is so small, but it has such a big profile on the national level. I’ve talked to some folks in New Hampshire - used to work in New Hampshire, and just quizzing them on whether this is a race that is unlike any that they’ve had before. And pretty much the universal answer that I’m getting from folks is that, yeah, this is unlike any other Senate race.
I remember covering the 2002 Senate race between Jeanne Shaheen and John Sununu, and it being a wildly different race. It was so much about the two candidates – you didn’t have any of this outside spending coming in like you do in 2014. It just shows you, in a very short period of time, just how the dynamic in political elections, whether it’s in New Hampshire or any other state in the union, has changed in a very marked way. And expect a whole lot of this to happen again going forward, unless there are major changes in US election law. That doesn’t expect to be on the horizon anytime soon.