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The Big Campaign Question: Cable Or Broadcast?

By Abby Livingston,CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — Think the television ad wars are raging between Democrats and Republicans this fall? Check out the battle behind the scenes between cable and broadcast stations for campaign ad dollars.
For the past three decades, television audiences splintered as cable and alternative viewing habits (Netflix, iPads), broke up the hold the big three channels — ABC, CBS, and NBC — once had on the American television-viewing public.
In politics, the difference is simple: Cable offers campaigns armed with micro-targeting data a chance to narrowcast, while broadcast still provides the largest audiences. Today, most political campaigns spend approximately 80 percent of their ad money on television and 20 percent on cable, according to multiple sources.
Two cable trade association executives, Sean Cunningham and Jason Wiese of Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, have traveled the country pitching to campaign consultants, political candidates and state operatives their argument that they need to mix up their television diet to better target voters.
They argue the political sphere lags behind the corporate world in the move to cable, and that consultants and candidates are biased toward broadcast, especially on local news.
“In hot markets, there can be almost entire newscasts eaten up by political ads,” Cunningham said in a recent phone interview with CQ Roll Call.
He and Wiese have a PowerPoint presentation based on Nielsen research data that says an early burst of broadcast is effective, but campaigns ought to shift to more specific cable buys to avoid diminishing returns.
“Your first (buy of a) couple hundred ads was fine and productive,” Cunningham said of broadcast. “It’s the next hundred that is expensive.”
It’s a contention that the broadcast industry fiercely fights, because not all viewers subscribe to cable.
“There’s a place for that,” Television Bureau of Advertising Chief Development Officer Scott Roskowski said of cable targeting. “I don’t think it’s a big place because you need to maximize the amount of people who are going to vote for you.
“I don’t think that’s main course in their strategy,” he added. “I think it’s an ancillary strategy to boost your numbers.”
One GOP media buyer agreed that broadcast television is still the most powerful medium for a campaign.
“You can’t believe what happens to a candidate when you turn on their TV buys,” a GOP media buyer said. “They become instant celebrities.
“When you start flipping on 500-1,000 points of broadcast, people start recognizing them and pointing at them on the street,” he added. “There’s a lot of power behind TV, still.”
But the GOP media buyer said technology is quickly evolving, and cable companies will soon be able to micro-target not to groups or demographics, but to cross-check public information like voter registration data with tracked viewing habits of specific individuals.
For now, he says it’s not a one-size-fits-all argument.
“It really varies with what market you’re in and what demo you’re trying to reach,” he said.
For instance, if a campaign aims to target 18- to 34-year-olds, cable is a better venue. But in the cases of older voters, broadcast is still king.
“There’s a lot of research that says doing too much of one thing or another is a bad thing,” he said. “You need a balance.”

Photo via Wikicommons

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How One Vulnerable Republican Responds To The ‘War On Women’

By Abby Livingston, CQ Roll Call

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — It took Republican Rep. Cynthia Lummis 16 hours to travel from western Wyoming last Friday to the Florida Panhandle to campaign for her embattled colleague, Rep. Steve Southerland II.
Like other women in her conference, she is spending this pre-election recess fanning out over the country to help House Republicans in competitive races, especially men struggling through what Democrats have deemed the GOP’s “War on Women.”
“I spent the entire day — a long day — traveling, and it means a lot to me to be here for Steve, because I want to serve with him,” she said in a interview last week, surrounded by veterans at a small gathering before a Women for Southerland rally.
Southerland faces a fierce re-election fight against Democrat Gwen Graham, an attorney and Florida political scion, in the 2nd District, a region that includes Tallahassee and stretches to the Gulf of Mexico coastline.
Southerland, in particular, has struggled with female voters. Earlier this year, his supporters hosted a male-only fundraiser with an invitation that read, “tell the Misses not to wait up.” Southerland responded to news reports on the event by comparing the event to a lingerie shower.
That’s in part how, on Sept. 27, a handful of female Republican officeholders descended upon Panama City Beach. Besides Lummis, Rep. Martha Roby drove that morning from her home in Montgomery, Ala., with her young daughter to attend the rally. Former Arkansas First Lady Janet Huckabee was also in attendance.
Pink is the event’s color of choice, filling signs and attire. Dozens of women sport pink Southerland campaign shirts as the congressman’s family and campaign staff pass out pink “Women for Southerland” bumper stickers.
This is what a GOP counteroffensive on gender looks like.
“It’s really a response to the War on Women,” Women for Southerland Co-Chair Ann Mitchell said. “I don’t like the gender politics. Every issue is a woman’s issue.”
Southerland pointed out the many women in his life to show his bona fides.
“This fallacy that I don’t care for women, I think, is crazy,” Southerland said in an interview. “Listen, I live with five women. My business partner is a woman. I’ve got more women on my congressional staff than I do men.”
He added the focus on gender division was the modus operandi of the Democratic playbook. He argued his foes had created “diversions” because they couldn’t run against him on other issues.
That defensive point is the refrain of the day. At the rally, female speaker after speaker decried those three words, “War on Women,” and insisted Democrats are exploiting the phrase because they cannot win on the issues.
This not-quite-sellout crowd is Southerland’s home base. They are furious at the charges, at Graham, at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and at the Democratic Party.
Roby gave one of the more fiery speeches, calling the “War on Women” “fabricated” and wondered how she, as a female Republican, could declare a war on herself.She also noted she came to Congress in the same class as Southerland, offering a testimonial of his character and performance in Washington, D.C.
“He’s been recognized as a leader, not just in our class but throughout the entire Republican conference,” Roby said. “He loves his people, and you are his people, and we need you to send him back to Congress.”
Republicans said out-of-area members perform several functions when they campaign for colleagues in their district. For example, they attract local press, they energize a campaign, they impress the national significance of these contests to locals.
Lummis dismissed the notion that she was there to give Southerland cover on gender.
“We are here to show women that Republican policies are better for women,” she said in an interview. “Republicans have not done a very good job stating their case with women.”

Elsewhere, Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., is traveling to Arizona later this month, and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers has an extensive campaign travel schedule ahead of her. McMorris Rodgers has also done conference calls with House candidates on how to answer charges on women’s issues and sends them briefing memos on the topic.
Male Republicans like Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado and House challenger Stewart Mills in Minnesota are flooding the airwaves with ads targeting female voters on topics ranging from sexual assault to domestic violence and featuring women testifying to the male candidates’ character.
A few hours later, Graham brushed off the morning rally’s themes.
“You wanna hear how many lingerie showers I’ve been to?” Graham said, laughing in an interview in St. George Island.
“The problems are the votes he’s taken and the positions he’s taken,” she said, citing Southerland votes on “Paycheck Fairness” and the Violence Against Women Act.
Graham adds that the gender issue is not specific to Florida’s 2nd District:”I think it’s resonate across the country.”
“Despite putting women on the stage and saying they live with them, Republicans still don’t understand that until they decide to fight for policies that actually improve the lives of women, they’re not going to see women on their side,” said EMILY’s List spokeswoman Marcy Stech.
But back in Panama City Beach, Southerland insisted the Democrats are flailing.
“They can’t talk about the economy. They can’t talk about our security,” he said. “So they make up things, and when people make up things, I like where we are.”

Photo via Vpickering via Flickr

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How Major League Baseball Could Determine Control Of Congress

By Abby Livingston, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — For most of the country, this October’s television airwaves are filled with two things: baseball and politics — and the two rarely mix.

But the mid-autumn climax of Major League Baseball could impact the Senate playing field in key states where teams are primed to make the playoffs. Televised sports make for a desirable market for political advertisers because viewers are more likely to watch live and are less likely to fast-forward through commercials.

What’s more, the target audience watching these sports — mostly white and male — comprise one of the most reliable voting blocs in a midterm. For Republicans, baseball viewing marks an opportunity to motivate their base. Democrats gear their in-game ads toward improving their numbers with this demographic.

From interviews with media buyers and political operatives, it’s clear there are several markets with top baseball teams and competitive congressional races that could collide between the playoffs in early October and Election Day.

Of course, things can change before then: Teams, just like campaigns, can flop. But based on MLB standings as of Wednesday, here are the prime markets to play ball and politics.

The Nationals: Washington, D.C., media market

Competitive races: Virginia Senate race, 10th District

The Nats have an eight-game lead in the National League East. Washington, D.C.-based media buyers are reluctantly superstitious to label their local team a sure bet for postseason play, but they telegraph that it’s likely.

Politically, this gives Senate candidates a chance to compete for northern Virginia votes.

Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, is likely to win his race, but he must run up the vote in northern Virginia to do so. Similarly, the Old Dominion features a competitive House race, the campaign to replace retiring Republican Rep. Frank R. Wolf in the same area.

The Tigers: Detroit media market

Competitive races: Michigan Senate and gubernatorial races, Detroit-area House races

The Tigers are neck and neck with the Kansas City Royals for the American League Central Division title. The runner-up in that contest will also be in the hunt for a wild-card spot.

One media buyer called the Tigers the only “slam dunk” on the map right now: a combination of a strong team mixed with a wealth of political races in the same market.

The gubernatorial race is the highest-profile contest in the state. The Senate race to replace retiring Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat, is on the cusp of being competitive.

“I don’t know if, by the time when the playoffs roll around, that race will still be on people’s radar,” a GOP media buyer said.

There are a handful of races in the Detroit area, but they are all ranked in Republican favor in the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call ratings.

The Royals: Kansas City media market

Competitive races: Kansas Senate, gubernatorial races

The Royals are in first place for the American League Central Division title.

Politically, media buyers are keeping a close eye on this market as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s re-election race becomes increasingly competitive.

But also, Sen. Pat Roberts is now “the most vulnerable Republican senator” on the map, provided his Democratic opponent stays off the ballot.

“I still don’t believe those are real races, but there’s definitely going to be some money spent there,” the Republican media buyer said.

The Braves: Atlanta media market

Competitive races: Georgia Senate

The Braves are possibly the weakest team on this list, coming in at third place in the wild-card race. But it’s still possible for Atlanta’s team to gut it out for the postseason.

Which means the Democratic nominee, Michelle Nunn, and the Republican nominee, David Perdue, could jump on the baseball airwaves in this open-seat race for Senate.

The Cardinals: St. Louis media market

Competitive races: Illinois gubernatorial race, Iowa Senate, a couple House races in both states

The St. Louis Cardinals have a four-game lead in the National League Central Division.

Missouri is reasonably quiet politically this cycle, and so the most obvious political spending is market spillover into the Illinois gubernatorial race. There’s a competitive race to oust Rep. Bill Enyart (D-IL), also in this market.

Even so, the Cardinals have wide regional appeal — including into Iowa.

“People are more preferential to the Cardinals than the Cubs in the Midwest,” a Democratic media buyer said.

There is some disagreement among media buyers whether baseball is a good investment for western Illinois House races — the 12th and the 13th districts — given the high cost of St. Louis advertising rates.

The Dodgers: Los Angeles cable market

Competitive races: California’s 26th District

The Dodgers are in first place in the National League West Division.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley is in political trouble and her race could be one of the closest in the country come October.

While Los Angeles is traditionally a cost-prohibitive television market, one avenue to exploit baseball is to commit to geographically targeted cable advertising during the early phase of the playoff season if Dodgers games air on TBS.

The A’s/the Giants: Sacramento, Calif., media market

Competitive races: California’s 7th District

Both the A’s and the Giants are in first place for their league’s wild-card spots. Sacramento, about an hour and a half away from both Oakland and San Francisco, is a notoriously wild market in politics.

Freshman Rep. Ami Bera is in a tough race for re-election. Media buyers predict that if either team does well, it would be safe to assume there are fans in the Golden State’s capital.

Where campaigns won’t be spending on baseball: Denver

If there was any team that would have produced a financial windfall for the media consultant community, that would be the Colorado Rockies. The already pricey Denver market will feature the triple whammy of Senate, gubernatorial and House race advertising.

Alas, for operatives and Coloradans, the Rockies are the second-worst team in baseball, behind the Texas Rangers.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons