Region flooded by $170m in campaign ads

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Rachel Baye,Steve Contorno

As a D.C. resident, Arleta Cobb won't have a say in the Virginia Senate race or in the decision over whether Maryland should legalize table games. But she still can't turn on her TV without hearing about both, and with the election just two weeks away, it's likely to get worse.

"The content just kind of wears on you," Cobb said. "I'm just kind of numb to it."

Traditionally Republican Virginia and reliably Democratic Maryland are historically low-key places during presidential elections. But with Virginia playing a pivotal role in the race for the White House and control of the U.S. Senate and Maryland hosting a series of contentious ballot issues, including the casino proposal, the region has been buried under more than $170 million worth of political advertisements this campaign cycle.

Organization Ad spending Location
Obama for America $43.2m Virginia
Romney for President $27.5m Virginia
Republican National Committee $5m Virginia
American Crossroads $7.3m Virginia
Priorities USA Action $7.4m Virginia
Restore Our Future $8.1m Virginia
American Future Fund $357,182 Virginia
Americans for Prosperity $3.3m Virginia
Planned Parenthood Action $2.3m Virginia
Concerned Women for America $1.1m Virginia
Tim Kaine for U.S. Senate $7.5m Virginia
George Allen for United States Senate $5.5m Virginia
For Maryland Jobs and Schools $15.9m Baltimore and Washington Metro areas
Get the Facts -- Vote No On 7 $16.1m Baltimore and Washington Metro areas
Maryland Marriage Alliance $473,255 Baltimore and Washington Metro areas
Marylanders for Marriage Equality $1.7m Baltimore and Washington Metro areas

"Never has so much money purchased so little," said Stephen Farnsworth, an expert on media and elections at the University of Mary Washington. "It's very expensive to advertise in the Washington market, and two-thirds of your audience is not voting in your state anyway."

President Obama has pumped $43 million into Virginia so far, and Republican Mitt Romney has added $27 million, much of it to fund TV ad barrages in Northern Virginia, according to a National Journal analysis.

While those outlays make Virginia one of the most costly battlegrounds in what is certain to be a record-setting presidential race, they're only a fraction of the political cash flowing into the Old Dominion.

Democrat Tim Kaine spent $7.5 million on ads in Virginia's U.S. Senate race, one of the most competitive and costly in the country. His Republican rival, George Allen, spent $5.5 million. But both were outspent by outside political groups, super-PACs, trying to influence the outcome of their race.

In total, outside groups such as Crossroads GPS, which is run by Republican strategist Karl Rove, spent $16 million on ads in Virginia attacking Kaine. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, meanwhile, spent about $9 million attacking Allen.

"We're constantly looking at the amount of money that's being put into the markets at the presidential and Senate level and making sure we're going to be able to get our message out," Allen adviser Dan Allen said.

Helping to boost campaign spending to historic levels in the region is the fight in Maryland over casinos. Groups for and against legalizing table games and allowing a new casino in Prince George's County spent more than $32 million to fill local airwaves with ads. That's more than anyone has ever spent on any campaign in Maryland history.

The spending in Maryland is driven by casino interests on both sides that stand to win or lose millions of dollars. Penn National Gaming, owner of the Hollywood Casino in neighboring West Virginia, has contributed $29 million to the cause to keep a competitor out of the market. MGM Resorts International, which wants to move into Prince George's County, has given $18 million. According to Maryland campaign finance records, stakeholders on both sides have forked over a combined total of nearly $53 million to buy ads and otherwise support their respective agendas. All that spending, though, has numbed viewers and may be providing diminishing returns to the big spenders, experts said.

"People are going to tune out the ads, and it's going to be harder for any particular ad to influence voters," said Darrell West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

The region is so awash in campaign cash that at least one candidate, Kaine, has tried to make the money itself an issue in his race. He regularly assails Allen for not agreeing to a ban on outside money in their Senate contest.

"Virginians," Kaine spokeswoman Lily Adams said, "are tired of the onslaught of ads funded by millions in outside, secret money."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner