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Campaign Ad-War Heats Up Ohio TV

By NPR

Not so long ago, those breaks during TV shows used to try to get you to buy things like cars and mattresses. These days it feels like the only thing for sale is your vote.

Studies show most people don’t believe what they see and hear in political ads; journalists and others constantly undermine them with truth-squadding analysis…and yet…

TRACEY: It’s still the weapon of choice for political campaigns.

Evan Tracey runs the Virginia-based Campaign Media Analysis Group. That means he spends a lot of time tracking = political ads around the country, and he says Ohio is a cash cow political ad-makers this year. These days, the McCain campaign is dropping about $150,000 a day in the state. The Obama campaign—not bound by public financing—is laying out more than twice that amount. And, Tracey says it’s only going up.

TRACEY: I think you’re going to see a steady ascent on spending. If you look at Obama’s spending patterns over the last four weeks, they’ve risen over 20% a week.

So, what are they spending all their money on? Obama’s ads here are hammering home his health care plan—and what he thinks is wrong with McCain’s.

OBAMA AD: On health care, John McCain promises a tax credit, but here’s what he won’t tell you. McCain would impose a new tax on health benefits, taxing your health care for the first time ever.

Meanwhile, McCain’s ads are spending a lot time asking this question:

McCAIN AD: Who is Barack Obama?
McCAIN AD: Who is Barack Obama? Senator Obama voted 94 times for higher taxes. 94 times!

And for all people say they’re tired of campaign ads and negative attacks, Oberlin College Professor Michael Parkin says there’s a simple reason the campaigns still blanket the airwaves.

PARKIN: Just the repetition of these ads..over and over and over again. Sooner or later, that message is going to get into your psyche. And, of course, you can counter-argue these ads, which is often done by people who have already made up their minds. But for undecided voters, the repetition of these ads and particularly some of these negative accusations, they tend to stick fairly well.

So, the idea is if you repeat something often enough, people start to believe it, even if they didn’t at first. That’s the strategy behind many ads produced and paid for by independent groups. These so-called 527 groups—named after the portion of the tax code they operate under—are happy to tread into territory the candidates’ campaigns won’t.

A group called Brave New PAC—run by liberal film-maker Robert Greenwald—is running this spot.

BRAVE NEW PAC AD: Another bout of cancer for John McCain, while he’s president of the United States, would profoundly impact his ability to lead.

And this from a conservative group calling itself The American Issues Project.

AMERICAN ISSUES PROJECT AD: Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?

Ad analyst Evan Tracey says the American Issues Project group has spent about $800,000 running that one-minute ad—the Obama campaign, meanwhile, has spent nearly as much responding to those ads.

The McCain campaign declined to comment for this story on their ad or counter-ad strategy.

Michael Parkin of Oberlin College says the attacks from outside groups on both sides could be a lot harsher closer to Election Day.

PARKIN: They may be waiting right until the last minute to kind of generate some October surprise where they bring out some new information, or at least make some claims that resonate with people.

Negative ads may not carry their usual punch, with the public so focused on the teetering economy.