Iowans Flooded with Presidential Candidates' Ads

With just six days before the Iowa caucuses, local TV stations are brimming with political ads. The Campaign Media Analysis Group, a firm that tracks political advertising, estimates $33 million has been spent on TV ads in Iowa alone — three times more than in 2004.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here we are. Only six candidate shopping days remain before the Iowa caucuses and local TV station in Iowa are clogged with political ads. The Campaign Media Analysis Group, a firm that tracks political advertising, estimates $33 million have been spent on TV ads in Iowa alone. That is three times more than in 2004. And we're not done. So what's all that money buying the candidates?

Well, a jaded audience, for one thing, as NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE: On the TV screens of Iowa and New Hampshire, the warm glow of the candidates' Christmas ads has faded away.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man #1: …tomorrow we're joined live by Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Christopher Dodd…

KASTE: And the presidential campaign has picked up again right where it left off - only more so.

(Soundbite of political ad "Choice: Judgment")

Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Former Republican Governor, Massachusetts): I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message.

Unidentified Man #2: Two pro-life Governors. Both support a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage. The difference?

KASTE: Mitt Romney is still attacking Mike Huckabee for being soft on crime and illegal immigration. Rudy Giuliani is invoking - what else - 9/11.

(Soundbite of political ad "Freedom")

Mr. Rudy Giuliani (Former Democratic Mayor, New York): …freedom. When you try and come here and kill our people. We're one, we're going to stand up to you and we're going to prevail.

KASTE: But there are also some new faces on TV.

(Soundbite of political ad "Defender of Freedom"

Unidentified Man #3: He defends our freedom and his record shows it.

KASTE: Ron Paul, flushed with the millions of dollars the supporters have raised on the Internet has bought TV time in Iowa and New Hampshire. But because he's joining the ad war late, he's still introducing himself to the voters.

(Soundbite of political ad "Defender of Freedom")

Unidentified Man #3: Answering our country's call, Ron Paul became a flight surgeon in the Air Force. As a doctor, Ron Paul delivered over 4,000 babies and is a leading defender of life.

KASTE: On the Democratic side, there's an independent ad that was paid for by public employee unions. It's gone into heavy rotation and it's endorsing John Edwards.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Unidentified Man #4: The Edwards plan: Ban campaign cash from lobbyists. End tax breaks for big oil. Stop job-killing trade deals.

KASTE: Edwards has disavowed any knowledge or control over this add. But he still has plenty of his own spots that have the same anti-big business message.

(Soundbite of campaign)

Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina): I believe that on the night of January 3rd, you're going to say enough is enough. There's going to be rising that begins right here in Iowa…

KASTE: In some polls, Edwards is moving up on Barack Obama. And Obama's latest ad seems to borrow some of Edwards' enough is enough populism.

(Soundbite of campaign)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): We got to stop giving tax breaks to companies that are moving overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that are investing right here in Iowa, in the United States of America. Enough is enough.

KASTE: Enough is enough is what a lot of Iowans are thinking about all these ad right about now. Chase Martyn is managing editor of a compilation of Iowa political blogs called the Iowa Independent. He says the ads, by themselves, rarely sway the kind of people who attend the party caucuses.

Mr. CHASE MARTYN (Managing Editor, Iowa): In fact at this point, Iowans are pretty sick of the television ads and they put the TV on mute during the commercial breaks so avoid hearing the same ads over and over again.

KASTE: But in some cases, even the mute button isn't enough.

(Soundbite of music)

KASTE: Hillary Clinton's latest ad doesn't even have the voice of an announcer - just stirring images and titles floating across the screen - America at a crossroads demands a leader with a steady hand. It's almost as if Clinton's advertising team designed this ad with the mute button in mind.

(Soundbite of political ad)

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): I'm Hillary Clinton and I approve this message.

KASTE: Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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