Super Tuesday, Super PACs,Meager Spending

Stations are not getting political ad windfalls seen in previous primaries
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March 6 may be Super in terms of the number of delegates up for grabs, with 10 states holding primaries or caucuses. But the amount spent on television by the candidates and their corresponding Super PACs with the big day approaching was less than stellar. Even though some good-sized states are in play for the Republican hopefuls on Super Tuesday—including Ohio, Virginia and Massachusetts—few markets saw a bounty spent on local television spots.

Take Virginia, a key swing state for the general election in November. “Virginia politics is a powder keg that you think is going to blow any time,” said Randy Smith, president and general manager of WSET in Roanoke. “But the powder may get damp and not blow.”

The powder appears similarly damp in markets across Ohio, Tennessee, Idaho, Oklahoma, Georgia and other states holding electoral galas March 6. A modest $100,000 had been spent on Chattanooga TV as of the middle of last week, even less in Oklahoma City. “It’s an insignificant amount,” said Jim Boyer, president and general manager of KFOR Oklahoma City. “We’ve gotten a little bit, but it’s certainly no frenzy here.”

After the huge primary spending in states such as Florida, where the candidates and their PACs dropped $25 million, some foresaw signi! cant Super Tuesday expenditures. Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG) envisioned aggressive spending by Mitt Romney and the pro-Romney Super PAC leading up to March 6. “The pro- Romney forces will deploy advertising in an effort to create and maintain momentum and snuff out their lesser-! nanced opponents,” wrote CMAG in a report.

Yet station general managers in these states didn’t seem too surprised by the trickle of campaign cash and generally did not envision a late flood of avail requests. They offered up a host of reasons for the flaccid showing. Many were waiting to see how the Feb. 28 Michigan primary shook out. Some said the giant spending in the early primaries and caucuses, such as the $17 million in Iowa, had drained campaign coffers for the time being. In Virginia, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were not even on the ballot, making the state an apparent slam-dunk for Romney. “We’ve had a little bit of issues money, but no candidate money yet,” Jeff Marks, president and general manager of WDBJ Roanoke, said early last week.

Romney also appears to have Idaho in the bag. “We’ve had no serious inquiries from presidential candidates to buy advertising time,” said Doug Armstrong, KTVB Boise president and general manager. “This is not unusual, since Idaho is expected to give Romney a majority.”

The free-spending Super PACs have been the big story of the 2012 election so far, and they continued to dominate what was spent for Super Tuesday. One general manager said PACs supporting Romney and Gingrich accounted for about 85% of the TV spending in his Tennessee market. Super PACs promoting Romney, Gingrich and Santorum were on the Cincinnati stations’ air.

The PACs were on Cincinnati radio, too—another trend that may be steering cash from television, as radio is proving popular among the pols in other markets as well. “We’ve gotten no candidate money yet, but radio has,” said Tom Tolar of WRCB Chattanooga. Romney’s PAC was also on local radio, Tolar said, as was U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R), for a congressional race that was not expected to heat up until late summer.

Some stations saw a bit of issues money or even a buy from President Obama, such as the 10-day campaign the incumbent had in Roanoke in January. But for many, it’s sit tight until the general election season starts to simmer big-time. “It’s a quiet political season so far,” says WSET’s Smith. “But I don’t think it will stay that way for long.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone

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