WASHINGTON – Residents and tourists will tell you California and New York are expensive. Now, the Democratic presidential candidates are finding out how costly the biggest delegate prizes are for advertising.
In Los Angeles and New York City, saturating the airwaves with political ads costs at least $1 million a week. It's about $500,000 a week in San Francisco and Boston. Also pricey are Atlanta, Minneapolis, Cleveland and Sacramento.
As John Kerry (search) and John Edwards (search) go head-to-head on March 2, TV ads likely will be just a footnote to their Super Tuesday (search) campaigns. Each would have to spend at least $10 million over the next two weeks to run moderate levels of ads in the 10 states with nominating contests, including delegate-rich California, New York, Georgia and Ohio.
"TV ads are not going to have much of an impact unless you have tens of millions of dollars in the bank, which none of these guys do," said Evan Tracey, president of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks ad spending. "They're going to cherry-pick markets where they have a base and use ads like yard signs to show they're engaged."
Kerry and Edwards will rely heavily on "free media" to get their messages out. Kerry will benefit from coast-to-coast news coverage as the front-runner. Edwards will have the luxury of more newspaper headlines and airtime because he's the only viable challenger.
Eight of the nation's 20 most expensive media markets are in Super Tuesday states: California, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Kerry has raised at least $7 million this year and Edwards at least $3 million.
Kerry, having won 15 of 17 contests, has more money to compete in the Super Tuesday states than Edwards because his victories have led to a financial windfall. The Massachusetts senator likely won't run ads until he sees where Edwards plans to go up on the air and then match the buy.
It's also possible, though less likely, that Kerry will not run any ads so he can prepare for a costly TV ad war in the general election against President Bush.
Kerry's aides would say only that he will reach out to voters in all 10 states. But that doesn't necessarily mean he will blanket them with ads.
"Advertising is an option, but there are other options as well," said Stephanie Cutter, a Kerry spokeswoman. "We can afford what ever is necessary."
Edwards aides have said their candidate would rely less on TV ads — and more on free media — in the March 2 states.
It doesn't appear that the North Carolina senator has much of a choice.
Although Edwards claims that his campaign remains financially strong, he faces the possibility that donors won't pony up for a candidate who has won only one state, South Carolina, where he was born.
He is hoping that his close second-place finish to Kerry in Wisconsin will bring in dollars. He also is poised to collect $1 million in federal matching money, but that check won't be delivered until Super Tuesday.
Aides say his campaign will focus on Ohio, New York, Georgia and California and will run ads in targeted media markets.