By David Skolnick
The presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney hasn’t spent a penny advertising on the Mahoning Valley’s network TV affiliates, but there’s no shortage of others buy- ing time on local stations. Political campaigns and organizations are spending $9,907,047 to air about 20,000 ads on the local affiliates.
While several campaigns have TV airtime reserved through the Nov. 6 election, it’s quite likely the number of commercials will increase between now and then as candidates and groups continue to make purchases on the stations.
Presidential candidates and supportive outside groups have spent about $112 million on TV advertising in Ohio, which is one-sixth the total spent nationwide, according to the Associated Press.
Also, this past week, Columbus was the top TV market in the nation in airing the most presidential commercials, with Cleveland in fifth and Toledo in eighth, according to NBC.
“Ohio is going to determine the election,” said Paul Sracic, chairman of Youngstown State University’s political science department. “Ohio provides the biggest return on investment and the candidates have figured that out. Ohio is life or death for Romney. Romney has to win Ohio to win the election. If [President Barack] Obama wins Ohio, I can’t see him losing the election.”
Because of that, Obama and Romney, as well as outside groups that support them, are on TV nearly nonstop in Ohio, Sracic said.
“And every one is negative,” he said.
Sracic said he is “really surprised” that Romney and Josh Mandel, the Republican U.S. Senate nominee, haven’t purchased airtime in the Youngstown area.
But groups that support them have plenty of commercials criticizing their Democratic opponents, Obama and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
“Television ads are only one side of the equation,” said Christopher Maloney, a Romney campaign spokesman. “Our campaign’s commitment to voters in the Mahoning Valley is evidenced by the fact that, unlike President Obama and [Vice President] Joe Biden who shy away from actually answering questions on their failed economic record, Gov. Romney and Congressman [Paul] Ryan routinely engage in local television and newspaper interviews.”
At the top of the list of money spent for ads on Valley TV affiliates is Obama, with $3,534,720 for about 8,000 commercials.
Almost half of that time was purchased in the past two months. As of mid-July, the campaign of Obama, a Democrat, had given Valley stations $1,745,155 for TV commercials.
The candidates and their support groups are concentrating on a handful of swing states, with Ohio at the top.
“We get a very skewed view of national politics,” Sracic said. “The rest of the country doesn’t get around-the-clock TV ads and this many candidate visits.”
The presidential race likely will come down to very close votes in Ohio, Florida, Virginia and perhaps Michigan, he said.
While Romney’s campaign is airing commercials in other Ohio TV markets, including Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo, it’s spent nothing in Youngstown.
“I’m a little bit surprised we haven’t had any buys from Romney,” said Kathy Sarna, a sales representative who handles political ads for WKBN [CBS affiliate], WYTV [ABC affiliate], WYFX [Fox affiliate], and MyYTV, a broadcast syndication station.
Those four stations have $6,232,275 in political ads so far.
“I’m going crazy; I can’t wait until Nov. 6,” Sarna said. “The revenue we’ve generated is already greater than 2008.”
In 2008, the last presidential election, the stations made about $6 million from political commercials.
About 74 percent of the local political ad money is going to two stations: $3,675,530 to WKBN and $3,653,469 to 21 WFMJ-TV, the local NBC affiliate.
WFMJ made about $4.6 million in political ads during the 2008 presidential election year.
“Political pacing eased a bit in the last few weeks due to the two political party conventions,” said Jack Grdic, general manager of WFMJ and WBCB, the local CW affiliate. “And the majority of political advertisements were dark Tuesday in observance of Sept. 11. We expect heavy activities these last 71/2 weeks leading into Election Day.”
Even with the slight slowdown, WFMJ has doubled the political ad money it made since mid-July.
Among the outside special-interest groups, Crossroads GPS — which pays for anti-Obama and anti- Brown ads — is clearly No. 1.
It’s spent $1.7 million in the Valley TV market, with no sign of slowing down.
Special-interest groups can spend and raise unlimited amounts of money — unlike candidate campaigns, which have limits on the amount of money they can accept — as long as they don’t coordinate their efforts with a campaign.
While Mandel hasn’t spent money on Youngstown network affiliates, Brown has spent $166,410 here.