Support Marketplace

Obama's ready for prime time

From Barack Obama TV ad "Hands"

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:
Did you see the campaign finance reports that came out earlier this week?
Barack Obama collected an eye-popping $150 million last month.
A validation, I suppose you could say, of his change of heart when he deciding to opt out of the public financing system. But it does present him and his staff with this question.
How do you spend it all. He is going to blow $3 million next Wednesday to buy some national television time. Half an hour on three of the four major networks doesn't come cheap.
But Marketplace's Steve Henn reports that even when he's trying by doing things like that, it's tough for Obama to spend what he's got.


Steve Henn:
Sen. Barack Obama's campaign is swimming in cash, but there's a problem.

Evan Tracy: This is a you can't take it with you proposition. In other words, this money is no good to him after election day.

Evan Tracy runs the Campaign Media Analysis Group. His job is to track political ad buys. And right now he says in most of the competitive states around the country-- there is very little local advertising time left for Obama to buy.
Consider this.

Tracy: The Chicago problem. Sen. Obama is spending about a half a million dollars a week right now on Chicago TV.

Obama's not afraid of losing Chicago. He's buying ads there to reach voters across the borders in Indiana.

Tape of an Obama Ad: I'm Barack Obama and I approved this message.

He's buying adds in Boston--to reach New Hampshire.

Tape of an Obama Ad: Sen. Obama I am not President Bush. True but you did vote with Bush 90 percent of the time.

These are some of the most expensive media markets in America--and most of the people watching are voting in states Obama's already locked up. But he's spending lavishly there anyway just to reach a small slice of the audience.

Tracy: His message is going everywhere.

Tracy says with money to burn buying a half hour on prime time makes all the sense in the world for Obama.
Even though it's been almost a generation since a candidate bought this kind of time on network TV. Remember Ross Perot.

Ross Perot: Let's get right to work.

And his pie charts.

Ross Perot: We're $4.1 trillion in debt.

His half hour political infomercials didn't exactly set a ratings record.
Or change the course of history.
But Shanto Iyengar director of Stanford University's Political Communications Lab says Obama's challenge today is totally different than Perot's was 16 years ago.

Shanto Iyengar:The elephant in the room in this entire discussion is the question of race.

Iyengar says for weeks the McCain campaign's message has been focused on making Americans just a bit uneasy about his democratic opponent.

Tape of a McCain Ad: Who is Barack Obama?

Obama half hour on prime time special is his best chance to erase these doubts.

Iyengar: Sen. Obama is going to try and convey a more of an emotional connection.

Think FDR and his fireside chats, reassuring Americans with a strangely familiar message.

Tape of Roosevelt: If there is any family in the United States that is about to lose its home or its farm that family should telegraph at once.

If Obama can create that kind of intimate connection with voters Evan Tracy says the payoff could be enormous--but he adds there is one potential pitfall. So much time on TV might smack of entitlement.

Tracy: If there is any risk in this Obama half-hour special it is that backlash. It could potentially give sympathy to McCain.

After all, Obama's half-hour chat will delay the opening pitch of game six of the World Series.

One Republican summed it up this way: Obama's putting politics ahead of the national pastime.

In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...