McCain, Obama Use Olympic Ads To Highlight Image

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Barack Obama and John McCain are running campaign ads during the Olympics. Evan Tracey, president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, says Obama is highlighting his image as a different kind of politician. McCain is using the games as a stage to attract new voters.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Hoping to break away in the polls, both John McCain and Barack Obama have been increasing their ad buys in recent weeks. Both candidates are spending big to run ads during the Olympics. And for help sifting through the latest ads, I'm joined by Evan Tracey. He's president of Campaign Media Analysis Group, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. EVAN TRACEY (President, Campaign Media Analysis Group): Thanks, good to be here.

NORRIS: First, on the positive side. It seems like it's a bit risky to run negative ads during the Olympics. So both candidates have rolled out fairly positive ads.

Obama is running an ad called "Hands." Let's take a quick listen.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Man #1: The hands that built this nation can build a new economy. The hands that harvest crops can also harvest the wind. The hands that install roofs can also install solar panels. The hands that built today's cars can build the next generation of fuel-efficient vehicles. Barack Obama, a new vision for our economy.

NORRIS: That was an ad from Barack Obama. John McCain has been running this ad during the Olympics. It's called "Broken."

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

Unidentified Man #2: Washington's broken. John McCain knows it. We're worse off than we were four years ago. Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties…

NORRIS: So two ads from two candidates, very different. I'm interested in hearing your take on the strategy there, particularly in that first ad from Barack Obama. You don't even hear his name in the first 17 seconds.

Mr. TRACEY: Yeah, yeah, exactly. The Obama campaign clearly is using the Olympics to sort of extend these themes of being a different kind of politician in some place where you typically don't see political commercials.

McCain, on the other side, he started with the negative ad in the Olympics. He's since rotated in this second spot. So he's using the Olympics really as this is a very large stage to a lot of new voters, as well as a lot of traditional Republican voters that he's trying to win over, defining Barack Obama with one ad, and on the other ad a little more pessimistic than the Obama spots but ends on a high note, reminding voters why they liked him or why they should like him, in other words, his maverick credentials.

NORRIS: Mr. Tracey, let's turn now to the negative ads. We've talked on this program in the past about negative ads from John McCain. They've been typically announced with great fanfare, but the Obama campaign has been quietly rolling out their negative ads.

This one debuted a few weeks ago. It's been airing in battleground states. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of political advertisement)

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: For decades, he's been Washington's biggest celebrity.

Unidentified Man #4: John McCain.

Unidentified Man #3: And as Washington embraced him, John McCain hugged right back, the lobbyists running his low-road campaign…

NORRIS: Now again, we said they've been quietly rolling these ads out in key battleground states. What do you make of that?

Mr. TRACEY: Well, actually, the Obama campaign, outside of their two positive spots that they're running in the Olympics, have almost switched all of their advertising into negative ads in these battleground states.

So the fact that the polls have remained relatively stationary, I think the Obama campaign is saying, look, we're not really moving the needle with our positive spots. McCain's been attacking us now for weeks. It's time to fight fire with fire.

So it'll be interesting to see how far they can carry this strategy forward and not lose some of the luster of being a new politician or a new kind of politician.

NORRIS: Now, we've heard a lot about the Obama campaign's big spending in the 18 states that the campaign considers to be the important swing states, but your organization has found that the John McCain campaign is in fact outspending Obama in the traditional battleground states.

Mr. TRACEY: Right. There's two ways to look at this. The McCain campaign is very limited as far as the states that they're touching right now with advertising. They're in 12 states together with Obama, and in those 12 states, 11 of them the McCain campaign has a significant expenditure advantage in those states.

Now, Barack Obama has had states like Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Montana and Alaska, North Dakota, all to himself. McCain hasn't followed him into those, but where they've stayed together, McCain is outspending. And again, that's probably a short-term phenomenon at this point because once Obama is through his convention, he does not accept public financing, which means he's going to have a lot more money, which I think the current trend will reverse itself as soon as McCain is on public financing and Obama's off of it.

NORRIS: Evan Tracey is president of Campaign Media Analysis Group. Thanks so much.

Mr. TRACEY: Thanks again.

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