WASHINGTON – Ten days until the first presidential contest of 2004, Democratic candidates in Iowa are spending heavily on TV advertising — a total of $10 million to date — as well as radio ads tailored to the state's voters.
Contenders Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry and John Edwards are using a crush of paid ads, along with get-out-the-vote efforts and the free exposure they receive from news coverage, in hopes of swaying undecided caucus-goers in the waning days of their campaigns.
Long-shot candidate Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich also is running ads there but at a fraction of what the others are spending.
Combined, candidates have spent at least $10 million so far to broadcast TV advertisements in Iowa, compared with about $5 million poured into media markets that reach New Hampshire voters, a disparity that illustrates how crucial Iowa has become for several candidates.
"I totally expect this to exceed all past spending in the Iowa caucuses by campaigns," said Evan Tracey, president of TNS Media Intelligence/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks ad spending. "It's interesting because it's never been much of a media state. It's always been a turnout state."
Dean, Gephardt and Kerry have spent roughly the same amount on television commercials in Iowa — from $400,000 to $450,000 each over the past two weeks. That means an average Iowa viewer would see each candidate's ads four to six times in one week. Edwards has spent less — about $300,000 — even as he tripled his buy there this week.
Dean is a former Vermont governor. Gephardt serves Missouri in Congress. Edwards is a senator from North Carolina, Kerry from Massachusetts.
The four are slated to continue heavy buying next week in the final days of their campaigns, and may even boost spending for a last-minute blitz. For example, Edwards has bought at least $300,000 worth of ads for next week, Gephardt about $280,000, with Dean and Kerry to spend at least $250,000. They still could add more spots. However, they could be hindered by time slots that already are filled and by the higher-than-normal rates stations usually charge just before an election.
"The political ads are putting a great deal of pressure on our existing inventory," said Allen Sandubrae, vice president of news for Citadel Communications Co. (search), which runs three stations in Iowa. "It's very tight right now."
However, David Beinstock, a GOP consultant in California who most recently did the ad buying for Arnold Schwarzenegger's gubernatorial campaign there, said there's always space available in the final days of campaigns as long as candidates are willing to pay more.
"It's an auction," Beinstock said, explaining that candidates with higher bids on a particular time slot could bump ads by their rivals or retail advertisers.
Dean, Gephardt, Kerry and Edwards are running radio ads or plan to start broadcasting them within days to supplement new 30-second TV commercials they rolled out this week.
In three TV ads, Dean courts farm families by claiming that corporate interests in Washington have led to the disappearance of Iowa farms, criticizing the current administration for its ties to wayward companies and saying he's the candidate who can stand up to President Bush.
Gephardt, in a TV spot that began running this week, goes after rank-and-file laborers by promising to oppose unfair trade deals that hurt American jobs and says that he was the only candidate to oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement (search) and the China trade deal.
Trying to shore up the middle-class vote, Kerry uses the story of Elizabeth Hendrix, a Des Moines resident, in a new ad to claim that his tax plan would help the middle class while his rivals' proposals would hurt it. And, Kerry also will start running TV and radio spots within days that remind voters that he has a military background. They will feature endorsements from Del Sandusky, who served in Vietnam with Kerry.
Edwards is appealing to rural and small-town Iowans in one new TV commercial that illustrates his working-class childhood and another that claims that America, under the current administration, is a nation that has policies for the haves and the have-nots. He also started running a radio spot Friday that focuses on his plan to revitalize rural America.