Four years ago, the two presidential campaigns spent big in nearly half the country. But the fight this year is concentrated in fewer than a dozen states that are suffering through more political ads than ever before. In the pivotal swing state of Ohio, Obama has dumped $12 million on ads so far, which is four times the amount he spent at this point in 2008.
The deluge is funded not only by Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, but by a motley and shadowy mix of outside groups, many of them backed by millionaires. The contest also marks the first time since the post-Watergate era in which neither candidate is taking advantage of public financing, which would have limited the amount of money the campaigns could spend.
The result is a crabbed contest far removed from 2008, when Obama spent relatively little time hosting fundraisers yet still managed to bring in as much as $6 million a day in the final months of the race. Obama’s figures are down this year, however, and both candidates are racing to squeeze in as many donor events
This weekend, the Obama campaign was planning thousands of events across the country aimed at mobilizing volunteers 100 days before the election.
“There’s much less room for error in 2012 than there was in 2008,” said Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ad spending nationwide. “I don’t think we’re going to see a world where Obama has an advantage in money.”
The incumbent is still a champion fundraiser by historical standards, particularly among grass-roots donors. But in recent months, he has fallen behind Romney and the Republican Party, which outraised Obama and the Democrats in May and June. The presumptive GOP nominee is also bolstered by well-funded super PACs and other conservative groups.
Under the gun financially and battling low approval ratings, Obama’s campaign is concentrating its advertising in nine swing states this year. That’s down from more than 15 states that it was targeting at this point in the 2008 election, when Obama was competitive in red-leaning states such as Indiana and even toyed with attempting to flip GOP strongholds such as Georgia and Montana.
Many of those targets are out of reach this year, resulting in a much heavier dose of advertising in the remaining swing states. Many voters are already turned off by the deluge, making it even harder for Obama or Romney to break through, according to experts and voter interviews.
“It’s October in July,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which analyzes campaign ads. “This just hasn’t happened before. . . . In 2008, we saw a lot more markets in play than we do this cycle. There are more ads crammed into a much smaller air space.”