Primary Ad Prospects Improve

Feb 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards’ surprisingly strong showing in Wisconsin’s Feb. 17 Democratic primary is rekindling hopes for Super Tuesday ad spending.

Sen. Edwards was running out of money for a major ad blitz and was expected to depend mostly on free media such as news appearances and interviews to carry him through March 2. But a quick increase in contributions following his showing in the dairy state, along with an upcoming federal matching money check, raised the possibility that he has sufficient funds for TV ads in smaller markets. The Edwards campaign said it received a record amount of Internet contributions the day after the Wisconsin primary. Other contributions were also up.
“We will be able to communicate with the voters we need to communicate with in the battleground states,” said Kim Rubey, a campaign spokeswoman.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, expected before Wisconsin to hoard ad money for the coming battle with President Bush, now may have to use some of that in Super Tuesday states. But his camp was mum on the issue last week. “We have the ability to [advertise in] all of them. It doesn’t mean that we will,” said Stephanie Cutter, a Kerry spokeswoman.
On Super Tuesday, New York, California, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island hold primaries; Minnesota holds a caucus.
Sen. Edwards last week sought to seize on Wisconsin for leverage. His campaign Web site featured a picture of him celebrating. A corner cutout said: “Momentum: Support is growing across the nation.” One link was labeled “Help defeat George Bush. Join the campaign now,” while another appealed for donations. On the trail he portrayed Wisconsin as creating a two-man race for the Democratic nomination.
Sen. Kerry, noting his wins in 16 of 18 states, stayed focused primarily on attacking President Bush.
Behind those stances, Democratic consultants and media observers said, is a new campaign reality: Sen. Edwards needs to do more than start winning states; he needs to get 60 percent of the remaining delegates to win the nomination. Mr. Kerry, meanwhile, has some leeway, but a major win for him March 2 would end the nomination battle.
“Not only does [Sen. Edwards] have to win but he has to win by a substantial majority,” said Carter Eskew, who four years ago led Vice President Al Gore’s ad team. He added that Sen. Kerry’s lead could give him considerable room to decide how to respond to Sen. Edwards.
Still, political pundits warned that the one clear message from the election so far is that Democratic candidates had better not take anything for granted. “You don’t want to slip,” said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNSMI Campaign Media Analysis Group. “You saw in the Dean campaign that no one has enough money to counterbalance what goes on in the news [or how] the press is writing about them.”
Mr. Tracey noted that the high cost of buying ads in some of the markets in Super Tuesday states-particularly Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Atlanta-means that even if the candidates can advertise, they won’t have money for heavy ad buys. As of last week, he said, almost $60 million had been spent on campaign ads, $44.1 million by candidates and $15 million by issue groups.
For Sen. Edwards, free media is more important because it may be his only way of separating himself from Sen. Kerry. Besides having less funding for ads and not being as well known, Sen. Edwards has tried to differentiate his candidacy by avoiding attack ads. That leaves TV interviews, debates and speeches as the best ways to distinguish himself from Sen. Kerry.
Mr. Eskew said TV also accentuates Sen. Edwards’ youth and vigor compared with the graver image of Sen. Kerry.