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Warring Political Ads: One Community's Experience


If you live in a swing state, the political ads on TV right now are inescapable, and they're only going to get more intense in the seven weeks before Election Day. NPR's Ari Shapiro wanted to see the impact that all this advertising's having on one community. He's been in Colorado Springs for the last week reporting a pair of stories that will air on Morning Edition and All Things Considered on Monday. Ari joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: How deep and profound is this impact?

SHAPIRO: Well, in a community like Colorado Springs, where fewer than half a million people live, it's like King Kong and Godzilla and are fighting in the streets. I mean, for some perspective, here's a story that Kyle Blakeley told me about the last election cycle four years ago. He runs a marketing company in Colorado Springs called Blakeley and Company.

KYLE BLAKELEY: Normally, where a local news spot might go for $300 to $500, a local news station, TV, they were talking to us about needing to pay $1,500 for that spot, but they had a national campaign come in at the last minute with some money and paid $7,000 for the spot.

SHAPIRO: And Scott, that was four years ago. According to new data that NPR has just purchased from CMAG, a company that tracks political advertising, in the last week, Colorado Springs saw three times as much ad spending as they did during the same week four years ago. Nationally, the campaigns have more money to spend overall, and they're spending it in a smaller number of swing states.

So every swing state, according to CMAG, has already seen more spending and advertising than they did in all of 2008, and there are still seven weeks to go.

SIMON: So does the local station feel like they won the lottery?

SHAPIRO: Totally. They are flush with cash. Missy Evenson is director of sales for the local ABC affiliate in Denver, she told me the station has seen more money this third quarter; that's June, July, August, than any other third quarter since she's been at the station.

MISSY EVENSON: We now will have six times the amount of money in September than we had in July. September will double August and then what that now tells us is in the month of October, in one month, we will have a million more dollars than what we had in the entire quarter.

SHAPIRO: Now Scott, you might think that would be like a stimulus for the local economy, but, in fact, the station budgets in two-year cycles because they expect slow times in an off-year and good times in an election year. If they need to buy a new satellite truck or camera equipment, they wait until now to do it.

SIMON: Let me ask you about the content of the ads, Ari. What's the main difference between the Romney approach and the Obama approach?

SHAPIRO: The Obama approach is much more targeted. They have a lot more niche advertising to women, seniors, Hispanics, et cetera. It's important in a place like Colorado where Democrats only won the Senate seat in 2010 by creating the largest gender gap of any Senate race. In contrast, the Romney campaign is going for a broader economic message, figuring that everybody is struggling in the tough economy and everybody needs jobs.

SIMON: I'm sure I understand why Colorado Springs winds up being a place where they spend a lot of this money because I believe Republicans outnumber Democrats there two to one, right?

SHAPIRO: Yeah, they do.

SIMON: And yet it's often in the top advertising markets nationally.

SHAPIRO: Yes, but advertising is much cheaper here than it is in Denver and, you know, whether you win a state or not, does not depend on how many towns you win. It depends on how many votes you get. So nobody doubts that Romney will carry Colorado Springs, but whether he carries it by 10 points or 15 points could make the difference in whether he carries this crucial swing state of Colorado.

SIMON: Can you tell yet, Ari, what kind of impact all of this attention, all of the ads are having on voters?

SHAPIRO: Well, almost everybody hates the ads, but the ads are not made for almost everybody. They're made for the whatever 5 percent or so of undecided voters remaining. As Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod once put it, never has so much money been spent to win over so few people.

SIMON: NPR's Ari Shapiro, keep watching. Thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.