Video: Obama prime-time ad to air

The New York Times
updated 10/29/2008 8:38:26 AM ET 2008-10-29T12:38:26

The campaigns of Senators Barack Obamaand John McCainare making their last-ditch advertising pitches in a loud, televised shouting match over health care and taxes, terrorism and presidential readiness, trying to sway the few remaining undecided voters or to push wavering supporters to the polls on Tuesday.

Mr. McCain and the Republican Partyare ending their advertising campaign with a blistering run of commercials that use images of tanks, Islamic extremists, and stormy seas to paint Mr. Obama as a risky choice in dangerous times.

Mr. McCain has had help recently from the independent advertising unit of the Republican National Committee, which embarked upon a $26 million campaign in the final weeks of the election, including efforts to buttress Mr. McCain in reliably Republican states like West Virginia and Montana.

But even with that help, Mr. McCain is in many ways shouting into the roar of a locomotive. The nearly $21 million that Mr. Obama spent on advertisements last week was nearly twice what Mr. McCain and the Republican party had spent in the same period.

Obama flexes his advertising muscle
Mr. Obama, with virtually limitless resources, is ending his advertising campaign with a dizzying array of commercials striking mostly economic arguments: A spot running heavily here promotes Mr. Obama’s tax cuts ("A nurse earning 60 grand?" an announcer says, "You get a thousand bucks under Obama — under McCain, just $150"); spots in Colorado and Pennsylvania accuse Mr. McCain of helping companies that "ship jobs overseas," and a commercial running heavily in retiree-rich Florida, falsely accuses Mr. McCain of proposing large cuts to Medicare.

Mr. Obama will further flex his advertising muscle on Wednesday with a half-hour infomercial in prime time on four broadcast networks: Fox, NBC, CBS and Univision. In the program, some of which was reviewed by The New York Times, Mr. Obama speaks directly to the camera at times while sharing the stories of families struggling in the current economy.

Unable to match the Obama juggernaut, Mr. McCain is making a last stand in towns he needs to win, like this one, where he and the Republican National Committee have combined resources to advertise as heavily as Mr. Obama, who has not needed similar help from his party. The situation is similar in Cincinnati; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Richmond, Va., which are among the places where Mr. McCain has tried to match Mr. Obama.

McCain hits must win states
There have been consequences for Mr. McCain, who has had to reduce his advertising in swing states like New Hampshire and Wisconsin so he can advertise in states he must win, like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Analysts say he has little choice. "If you’re the McCain campaign, there are two columns right now in your thinking: places you have to win and places you need to win," said Evan Tracey, the chief operative officer of CMAG, a company that monitors political advertising. Translating that into laymen’s terms, Mr. Tracey said, "You don’t have to eat, but you need to breathe."

"There’s no White House without Virginia," he said. "So it doesn’t matter what happens in Wisconsin or New Hampshire if he doesn’t win there."

And so, while the advertising war can feel awfully lopsided for Mr. Obama in the most expensive cities to advertise in, like Miami, Philadelphia and Washington (which reaches Northern Virginia), viewers in Cincinnati, Harrisburg and here in Norfolk are in the middle of a full-scale, spot-for-spot advertising war.

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The battle starts with the big morning news programs, runs through "The Young and the Restless," "The View" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune," the late local news and, finally, "Late Show With David Letterman" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

Senior strategists in both campaigns said in interviews this week that they had identified women, specifically the so-called "security moms" who are worried about national defense, as a crucial part of the undecided vote.

That both campaigns have tried hard to reach them this year is underscored by the list of their top shows compiled by the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project: "The Oprah Winfrey Show" is the top, non-news program for the advertising of both campaigns, followed by programs like "Regis & Kelly," "Rachel Ray" (one of the few programs that has included more advertisements from Mr. McCain than from Mr. Obama) and "The View."

On Tuesday, just before "The View" began here, Mr. McCain showed a spot featuring Mr. Biden’s quotation from a recent fund-raiser, "Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama."

As Mr. Biden speaks, the spot plays ominous music and shows threatening images of the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez; and Islamic extremists in black arm bands holding machine guns and marching.

The advertisement is in line with two being run by the Republican National Committee: One shows the presidential chair in the Oval Office as an announcer says, "Barack Obama: He hasn’t had executive experience, this crisis would be Obama’s first crisis, in this chair." The other shows a storm-swept sea as an announcer says, "Some now say this storm cannot get worse, our nation is so off course that Barack Obama’s quick rise to power and inexperience should not matter. But what if the storm does get worse, with someone who’s untested at the helm?"

Speaking of that line of attack, Brad Todd, who is running the Republican Party effort, said, "We have settled in on that difference."

Resources let Obama hit back
But, in an example of how Mr. Obama’s resources have allowed him to meet every charge, just before "The Oprah Winfrey Show" began, his campaign responded with a commercial in which a narrator said, "John McCain’s playing with audiotapes, selectively editing Joe Biden’s words." The spot goes on to include the rest of Mr. Biden’s quote: "They’re going to find out this guy’s got a spine of steel."

Similarly, throughout the day, local stations here featured a McCain advertisement with various voters saying, "I am Joe," a reference to Mr. Obama’s recent conversation with "Joe the Plumber," in which Mr. Obama said his tax plan would help "spread the wealth."

"Obama wants my sweat to pay for his trillion dollars in new spending?" one of the characters asks in the advertisement.

But that spot is up against one from Mr. Obama showing his Web site’s tax-cut calculator and the savings he says middle-class families would get under his plan.

That advertisement is among Mr. Obama’s heaviest this week, apparently adding to what several polls have found as an advantage Mr. Obama holds over Mr. McCain on taxes. Still, it is one that Mr. McCain’s campaign hopes will dwindle with six more days of counterprogramming in crucial markets like this one.

This report, "With Time Running Short, Campaigns Engage in a Noisy Air War," originally appeared in the New York Times.

This story originally appeared in The New York Times


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