Commentary

Christensen: $38M talks, but voters are tired of listening

rchristensen@newsobserver.comJuly 28, 2012 

The BarackObamaMittRomney and friends juggernaut has spent $38 million in the TV ads wars in North Carolina so far.

But $38 million hasn’t moved the needle.

The biggest spenders were the forces for Republican candidate Mitt Romney who spent $25 million – $7 million by the Romney campaign and $18 million by such political committees as American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity, and the Republican National Committee.

The Obama campaign has spent $13 million.

But the polls suggest that despite the barrage of spending on TV advertising, the race remains virtually a dead heat, with fewer and fewer undecided voters, perhaps only 3 percent or 4 percent.

What’s more, there is anecdotal evidence of voter fatigue beginning to set in – people who Tivo programs hitting the fast-forward button during political commercials. Or those watching live, hitting the mute button. Or others just not listening.

If this is indeed a battleground state, think World War I and trench warfare. Despite the TV ad barrages, at this moment the presidential campaign gives every appearance of remaining in place through the Democratic National Convention in September in Charlotte and perhaps until the November election.

Drawing blood

No campaign seems capable of gaining any ground.

It is not for lack of trying. You can hardly turn on your TV set without seeing an ad explaining why either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney would be a bad choice for the Oval Office. There have been $12.5 million in presidential ads in North Carolina in July alone, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

Some ads have been more effective than others. Obama has drawn blood with his attacks on Romney for outsourcing jobs, while Romney has hit a nerve on Obama’s comments on small businesses.

(Most effective Obama ad: Mitt Romney singing “America the Beautiful” while lines run saying that Romney outsourced jobs overseas and had foreign bank accounts. “Mitt Romney’s not the solution,” says the announcer. “He’s the problem.”

The most effective Romney ad, by the Republican National Committee, talks about the bad economy and growing deficit, and then sorrowfully tells the voter: “He tried. You tried. It’s OK to make a change.”)

Who’ll go the distance?

It has been the conventional wisdom that Romney has a slight advantage in the state. North Carolina has gone Republican in nine of the past 11 presidential races, and Obama won by only 14,000 votes in 2008. Since then, North Carolina has had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

But if the Romney campaign hoped to deliver an early knock-out blow in North Carolina before moving on to more traditional battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, it has not succeeded.

So far, $38 million has been spent to little effect. We may be looking at another $38 million spent on TV ads during the next three months.

Will voters tune out? Will TV advertising become less effective? Will other campaigns have a more difficult time being heard through the presidential noise?

Here is one scenario: If the North Carolina presidential race remains close until November, it will play to Obama’s strength – a superior and well-financed ground game.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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