With Virginia set to play a leading role in the presidential race and the fight over control of the U.S. Senate, candidates and outside political groups are already scrambling to lock down television airtime for millions of dollars’ worth of campaign commercials that won’t hit the airwaves for months.
Democrat Tim Kaine, a candidate for Virginia’s open U.S. Senate seat, recently purchased $2.5 million in television time for the fall campaign, in the latest indication of just how hot a commodity airtime in the Old Dominion is becoming. The National Republican Senatorial Committee in April bought $5.5 million in airtime for ads it expects to run in various markets around the state.
“This election year is unprecedented in the amount of ads we’re seeing coming in from outside groups,” said Mo Elleithee, an adviser to Kaine and a longtime Democratic strategist. “A lot of people expect that television time is going to be at a premium. The airwaves will likely get very, very crowded later on.”
Republicans and Democrats alike expect deep-pocketed super-PACs, advocacy groups and the candidates themselves to shatter spending records on television ads, particularly in tossup states like Virginia. President Obama’s campaign and a conservative group led by Republican strategist Karl Rove already have a strong presence on Virginia airwaves, and that will continue through November.
If campaigns don’t get in the game now, they could be out of the game by fall.
“It’s not just candidates and party committees anymore. It’s a whole host of outside groups,” said Brian Donahue, a Republican consultant. “Inventory in many of the target presidential states that have competitive Senate races or competitive congressional races will suffer. Candidates or groups who are buying late will have a difficult time getting on the networks.”
While voters may eventually feel the barrage of campaign ads they face this year is endless, for candidates and television networks, that time is quite limited, Donahue said. The high demand creates expensive bidding wars, and buying early can help candidates and groups mitigate some of the cost.
“By placing this ad buy now, we’re able to take advantage of less expensive rates,” Elleithee said. “It’s a good time to be a television station in Virginia.”
With television airwaves inundated, campaigns and political parties are going to have to find other technological and marketing means to reach voters.
“After Sept. 1, you’re not going to be able to buy any time, all the mailboxes will be full, and all the voicemails will be full,” said Pete Snyder, chairman for the GOP’s Virginia Victory 2012 campaign. “You’re going to be hard-pressed to get in front of Virginia voters.”