In Turnabout, Candidates With Less Spend More, Candidates With More Spend Less : It's All Politics Candidates with the least money to spend are showing up in TV ads more often. In another twist, nice guys aren't finishing last.
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In Turnabout, Candidates With Less Spend More, Candidates With More Spend Less

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In Turnabout, Candidates With Less Spend More, Candidates With More Spend Less

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We are setting you up for the week of news here. You can expect to hear more about refugees throughout this week and also more about the presidential campaign in the United States. That's because Republican presidential candidates hold their second televised debate this Wednesday. With a record number of candidates, the debates certainly look different than in years past. And as NPR's Peter Overby explains, the battle fought through TV ads also looks quite different.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: Some of the candidates have had a tough time getting traction or money. One of those is Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. But he's been on TV in Iowa this summer thanks to a friendly, well-financed superPAC.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

BOBBY JINDAL: The folks want to immigrate to America. They should do so legally. They should adopt our values. They should learn English, and they should roll up your sleeves and get to work.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Bobby Jindal for president.

OVERBY: The strategy here was to jet up support in Iowa, which would enhance Jindal's national poll numbers, which would qualify him for the top tier of the TV debates.

ELIZABETH WILNER: It was definitely a bank shot, and it doesn't appear to have worked.

OVERBY: Elizabeth Wilner oversees the monitoring of political advertising for Kantar Media, an ad-tracking firm. She says this is a weird thing about the 2016 primary season.

WILNER: Thus far, television advertising in the primaries has been more a sign of weakness than a sign of strength.

OVERBY: It used to be that when White House hopefuls got enough money, they'd plow it into TV. It showed off their political and financial muscle, but not this year. The candidates on the air have mostly been those who are behind in the money chase. Take Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He started his campaign relatively late. But the superPAC backing Kasich put him on TV in New Hampshire for a good part of July.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

JOHN KASICH: I think about, who is it that has the experience to balance the federal budget? It's very hard to do. Who is it that's had the experience in turning a major state from big deficits...

OVERBY: Of course there is a candidate who doesn't have to buy TV time. Billionaire Donald Trump leads the Republican polls and basically gets all the free media coverage he wants. Political scientist Ken Goldstein is with the University of San Francisco, and he's the political advertising analyst for Bloomberg Politics. He said some of the big-name Republican candidates - including Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio - have held back from engaging on TV.

KEN GOLDSTEIN: So on the one hand, that makes a lot of sense, right? Don't be screaming into the storm when you're not going to be heard. On the other hand, this campaign keeps going. At some point, it gets to be too late.

OVERBY: And something else has been different about TV this cycle - the tone. Jeff Stewart is with Ace Metrix, a Silicon Valley company that measures how voters react to ads.

JEFF STEWART: Ads that have sort of a softer tone - at least at this stage in the game - definitely are seen as more effective versus things that tend to be more screechy and more preachy in terms of their tone.

OVERBY: That may help to explain how poll numbers surged for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson after his campaign took this ad into Iowa and New Hampshire.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

BEN CARSON: A mother's love, the power of reading and the ladder of education enabled me to achieve my dream of becoming a doctor. Dreams, determination, dedication - together we can make...

OVERBY: But it maybe defying the law of political gravity for these kinder, gentler messages to last much longer. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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