Super Primary Day Means Huge TV Ad Costs

ByTahman Bradley

March 15, 2007 — -- With a number of big states poised to follow in California's footsteps, moving their presidential primaries and caucuses to Feb. 5, campaign strategists may be forced to completely reconsider how they use television advertising to win voters.

A full-saturation television ad blitz in the last weeks of the nomination fight in early states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina can range between $200,000 to $400,000 a week. And to be even somewhat competitive in those early states, a campaign usually needs to spend $50,000 to $60,000, according to Evan Tracey the chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, a advertising research agency.

But in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida and Texas, states with some of the most expensive media markets, presidential campaigns could spend 10 times as much -- or $2 million to $4 million a week.

"My guess is that every single candidate is trying to recalibrate as to what they're going to do with their money now," said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist who has not committed to a 2008 campaign. "I wouldn't be surprised if campaigns started saying, 'You know what, we got to start cutting back on staff because we've got to reserve every dime, we've got to go on TV.' Its going to be completely changed from every presidential campaign we've known."

Besides cutting costs, campaigns will likely have to make tough decisions about which states they want to spend advertising dollars in and what other options they have beyond buying local television.

"I think you're going to see campaigns doing television, but in select markets," Tracey said. "You're going to see campaigns saying, 'Look, if its going to cost me $6 million a week to be on television in the key states on Feb. 5, then maybe I need to look at buying national TV or cable TV to maximize impact."

Although no one knows for sure how the front-loaded calendar will affect the 2008 race, some campaign strategists and pundits predict the 2008 race will be largely about who can come out of the early states with the most momentum.

Steve McMahon, who served as political director for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential bid, predicts candidates who do not have an established brand, know they need a strong performance in early states or else, "Feb 5 is going to be like hitting a brick."

Lesser known candidates will have to do what John Kerry did in 2004 and put in all on "red 7," McMahon said in his roulette rhetoric. "John Kerry was skillful to move his operation to Iowa and hit 'red 7' and he was the nominee."

Appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," ABC News' George Stephanopoulos predicted that the states wanting to move up their presidential primaries may not play as large role in selecting the Democratic and Republican nominees as they had hoped.

"The intention is to give big states more of a say in the process," said Stephanopoulos. "But just about every campaign strategist -- Democrat and Republican -- I spoke with says it is just as likely that the law of unintended consequences will kick in and make Iowa and New Hampshire even more important."

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