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Obama Outspending McCain On TV Ads

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Well, Senators Obama and McCain are also taking their sparring to the airwaves. The two candidates spent $28 million on TV ads last week alone. That's according to analysis from the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. Obama substantially outspent McCain, about $17.5 million for Obama's ads to about $11 million for McCain's. And here's a striking finding. The analysis shows that in this past week nearly 100 percent of the McCain campaign ads were negative compared with about a third of the Obama ads. I talked about this with reporter Jonathan Martin of Politico. We began with the only two states where McCain is outspending Obama.

Mr. JONATHAN MARTIN (Reporter, Politico.com): Iowa is a state that narrowly went for President Bush in 2004, that most polls show Obama winning comfortably, but the McCain folks think they still have a shot there. Minnesota, a blue state with a progressive tradition, tough to see McCain winning there, but they have forced Obama to go up on TV there now, which he hadn't been before. But the real story here I think is two-fold, Melissa. So number one, just the enormous advantage that you mentioned at the outset that Obama now has on TV over McCain. And I think that validates the Obama decision, that was much criticized, to not take public funding, to ensure this kind of free hand in the month of October to spend liberally.

And further, what's really telling, I think, is just how much money Obama has plowed into a red state. I'm thinking about places like Florida, Virginia, North Carolina. A few months ago, we didn't think these states were going to be competitive in the end. And now they're not only competitive, but Obama has a slight advantage in some polls in these states. And if you look at what McCain has spent in these red states - Florida, Carolina, Virginia - it's nowhere near what Obama has there on TV.

BLOCK: Yes, some of these numbers are quite stunning. I mean, Barack Obama outspending John McCain in North Carolina by eight to one, three to one in Florida, three to one in Virginia.

Mr. MARTIN: And look also at where McCain and Palin are. In the final weeks before Election Day, don't listen to what the candidates say. Look where they go and where they spend their money. It's hard to believe that you're going to have the GOP ticket in places like Richmond and Virginia Beach in mid-October. But this Monday, that's where they are going to be.

BLOCK: We have a couple of the recent TV ads with us here. And let's listen to one from John McCain. This one they titled "Dangerous."

(Soundbite of McCain campaign ad)

Unidentified Announcer #1: Who is Barack Obama? He says our troops in Afghanistan are...

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Just air raiding villages and killing civilians...

Unidentified Announcer #1: How dishonorable. Congressional liberals voted repeatedly to cut off funding to our active troops, increasing the risk on their lives. How dangerous.

BLOCK: Now Jonathan, the analysis from the Wisconsin project said that there are more negative ads running this year than four years ago in 2004.

Mr. MARTIN: Dangerous, dishonorable, risky, and who is Barack Obama? That ad is the dominant spot that McCain has up right now across the nation. And that I think speaks to where his campaign is. They're trying to make this into a contest about character, whereas at the same time Obama is focusing on the issues.

BLOCK: Right. And you mentioned the economic crisis. Barack Obama has an ad picking up on the plan that John McCain announced during the debate this week about having the Treasury Department buy up troubled mortgages. This one is called "Tested."

(Soundbite of Obama campaign ad)

Unidentified Announcer #2: McCain would shift the burden from lenders to taxpayers, guaranteeing a loss of taxpayer money. Who wins? The same lenders that caused the crisis in the first place. Putting bad actors ahead of taxpayers? We can't afford more of the same.

BLOCK: And that too would be considered a negative ad, Jonathan?

Mr. MARTIN: It sure would. And look, it's important to remember that both of these candidates are spending millions of dollars on negative ads. There are no candidates here riding on a white horse. The difference is that McCain is focusing more on character-based attacks whereas Obama is doing some of that, but he's really trying to hit McCain on issues. And why is that? Because every poll shows voters prefer Democrats on the issues.

BLOCK: If we see Barack Obama's lead continue to solidify in the next weeks before the election, would you expect the tone of either party's ads to change as that happens?

Mr. MARTIN: I think what's going to happen is that you'll see McCain keep focusing on character. That's where the McCain campaign wants to take this. And I think in response to that, you'll see Obama hitting back, certainly talking about McCain's character some. But you'll also see Obama, I think, do some positive ads, underscoring his Americaness.

BLOCK: We've been talking with reporter Jonathan Martin of Politico. Jonathan, thanks very much.

Mr. MARTIN: Thanks, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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