Outside Groups Feed Romney's Ads in Iowa

By Gregg Hennigan, Reporter

DES MOINES, Iowa - The onslaught of TV advertisements airing in Iowa for the presidential race has been fueled on the Republican side mostly by outside groups on behalf of Mitt Romney, while President Barack Obama's campaign is funding his effort.

An analysis by Iowa media outlets, including The Gazette and organized by the Des Moines Register, found that TV ads purchased on behalf of Romney that aired in Iowa primarily from April through August cost more than $15.7 million. The Romney campaign accounted for just $5.7 million of that, with outside groups covering the rest.

By contrast, Obama's campaign accounted for 99 percent of the nearly $13.9 million spent on the president's behalf.

"That's very similar across the target (battleground) states," said Bob Biersack, a senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money in U.S. politics. "You'd see the same kind of thing in Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida."

A 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United opened up political spending to corporations and unions. Obama's reluctance to embrace outside groups like super PACs, or political action committees, and tax-exempt organizations is one reason for the differences in the two sides, experts said. Also, Romney could not spend money raised for the general election until he officially became his party's nominee Aug. 30.

In all, the analysis tallied $29.6 million spent on 97,464 TV advertisements mostly from April through August. Since May 1, when ad buys really took off, the state has averaged 720 spots a day.

The actual totals are even higher because the data collection was limited to network affiliates and the one or two largest cable systems in eight markets covering the state. There are dozens of smaller cable systems airing presidential ads. Also, the period reviewed ended before the final two months of the campaign, when advertising traditionally picks up.

Drake University political scientist Dennis Goldford estimated there will be 1.45 million Iowa voters in November, and the $29.6 million spent on ads over the five months would amount to more than $20 per vote.

"Which is just huge, just huge, and of course that's not the sum total of the amount spent yet," he said.

While the Democratic side was outspent, it ran more ads, 51,342 spots versus 46,122 on behalf of Romney. Now that it is within 60 days of Election Day, the presidential campaigns will get the lowest ad rate charged by a station, whereas the outside groups will pay market value, which could allow the Obama campaign to stretch its funds further.

The conservative outside organizations include the Karl Rove-backed Crossroads GPS and the billionaire Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity.

Obama's only significant support from an outside group came from Priorities USA Action, which spent less money in Iowa than all but one of the nine conservative outside groups.

The outside groups cannot coordinate with the candidates' campaigns.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Erin Seidler said they anticipated being outspent on ads and put a lot of effort into their ground game to directly meet voters.

"Super PACs and their wealthy outside donors aren't having that one-on-one conversation that we're having through our campaign, and we think that will make the difference," she said.

On the other hand, Romney's campaign sees the tone of Obama's ads as failing to inspire voters to his side.

"In Obama's case," David Kochel, Romney's Iowa strategist, told the Des Moines Register, "the vitriol in his advertising has done something else: It's destroyed one of the most carefully crafted political brands — hope and change — we've ever seen."

About $600 million has been spent nationwide on presidential ads for the general election, a number that is expected to approach $1 billion by Election Day, Biersack said.

Much of that has been concentrated in the 10 or so swing states like Iowa that are expected to decide the presidential election.

In the two weeks during the party conventions a month ago, Obama and pro-Democrat ads were running in only 55 or 56 of the nation's 210 TV markets, according to Travis Ridout, a political scientist at Washington State University and co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project. Conservative groups and the Romney campaign may have been in a few more markets, but that's it, he said.

The Davenport, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets ranked 15th, 16th and 17th nationally in the number of TV ads that ran from April 25 through Sept. 8, according to the Wesleyan Media Project.

The Cedar Rapids market, which includes Iowa City and Waterloo, saw 17,088 ads in the five-month period reviewed for this story.

And if you thought many of those ads were negative, Ridout said you're right. His organization has found that ads are more negative this year than in 2008. He said that's likely because outside groups run more negative ads than the campaign committees, races with an incumbent president tend to be more about the past, and going negative is a way to shake things up with many people set in their views of Obama after four years.

Interestingly, more money was spent on behalf of Obama than Romney in the Sioux City and Omaha/Council Bluffs markets in Republican-friendly western Iowa while the opposite was true in the Cedar Rapids and Quad Cities markets in Eastern Iowa, which is traditionally seen as supportive of Democrats.

"The old saying is your best defense is a good offense," said University of Iowa political scientist Cary Covington. "Rather than playing defense in their home territories, they'd rather go on the offensive in the other guy's territories, force him to go back and defend his turf."
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