WASHINGTON – The focus is on Iowa's upcoming caucuses, but the Democratic presidential candidates are making sure voters in New Hampshire still see them often this week -- on TV.
They are broadcasting a slew of commercials in media markets that reach New Hampshire voters in the two weeks before the Jan. 27 primary.
Wesley Clark (search) and John Edwards (search) are running so many commercials this week that the TV industry estimates the average viewer in New Hampshire will see each candidate's ads about 10 times. Howard Dean (search), Dick Gephardt (search) and John Kerry (search) are running a bit less, with their spots likely to be seen seven to eight times.
The five hopefuls, as well as Joe Lieberman (search), also are running ads on the pricey Boston stations, which broadcast into New Hampshire. That means that many Massachusetts residents will be inundated with ads even though their primary isn't until March 2.
"Pity the viewers of Boston television," quipped Matt Bennett, a Clark spokesman.
Ad buying in Boston is boosting most of the candidates' spending to about $200,000 to $250,000 this week to court New Hampshire voters.
Presidential candidates typically run this level of TV advertising (search) in the two weeks before primary contests as they try to reach voters with their messages directly instead of through the filters of the news media.
"Direct mail (search), phone calls, TV ads, what they read about in newspapers, all of those work together to create an impression with voters," said David Dixon, a Democratic consultant. "But the most controlled impression campaigns can give to voters is the 30 seconds they buy on TV."
This week, Dean, Gephardt, Kerry and Edwards are campaigning mostly in Iowa, which holds its caucuses Jan. 19. That means TV ads -- as well as news stories about them -- are the main forms of exposure to New Hampshire voters.
Dean, a former Vermont governor, and Kerry, a Massachusetts senator, don't have to adhere to spending limits in each state because they aren't accepting taxpayer financing. However, that freedom to spend has not yet shown up in their New Hampshire advertising.
"We're trying to make our expenditures strategically and effectively over the long term," said Steve McMahon, Dean's media consultant.
Gephardt, a Missouri congressman, is going back on the airwaves in the Granite State (search) this week after a four-month absence, and on Boston stations for the first time. He will start running new ads there Tuesday that compare his record to that of his rivals on various issues.
Edwards, who has been on the air consistently in New Hampshire since August at small levels, boosted spending this week and is starting to run spots on Boston stations. An Edwards adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Monday that finances led to the decision to run at such low levels until now. However, the adviser conceded that it may have been a tactical mistake that allowed Clark to take advantage of the uncluttered airwaves.
Clark is not competing in Iowa, and has been on the air in markets that reach New Hampshire voters at moderate levels for more than a month. The retired Army general from Arkansas started broadcasting a new spot in New Hampshire on Monday that attempts to show that he understands how important jobs are in America by using a personal story.
Lieberman, a Connecticut senator, also abandoned running in Iowa to focus on New Hampshire, where he is running two ads -- one that talks about his tax proposals and another that says he has integrity. Long-shot candidate Dennis Kucinich (search), an Ohio congressman, and perennial candidate Lyndon LaRouche (search) also are running ads there but at a fraction of what the others are spending.