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PA: State races may grab feature spot as presidential ad interest wanes

By   /   September 12, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

By Eric Boehm | PA Independent

HARRISBURG – With both major presidential campaigns pulling ads from Pennsylvania airwaves last week, some political observers and operatives see at least a limited opportunity for other races to grab the spotlight.

And while residents might be glad to know they won’t be barraged with anti-Obama and anti-Romney ads in the last seven weeks before Election Day, they might have to get ready for lots of ads touting U.S. Senate candidates Bob Casey and Tom Smith, or attorney general candidates Dave Freed and Kathleen Kane.

Without presidential campaigns to compete with, state races running on smaller budgets have a chance to make a splash in Pennsylvania.

“It’s a much better market right now for the lower level candidates to get their message out,” said Chris Borick, a professor of political science and pollster at Muhlenberg College.

Smith, a Republican from Armstrong County, is challenging Casey, the first term Democratic senator from Scranton.

Freed, a district attorney from Cumberland County, and Kane, an assistant DA from Lackawanna County, are squaring off to replace state Attorney General Linda Kelly, who is not seeking re-election.

Spokespeople for all four candidates did not return calls or declined to comment on how their media strategy would shift now that the presidential race has moved on from Pennsylvania.

Still, those two races figure to have the most to gain from the increased availability of airtime in the state with the presidential campaigns taking their ads to Virginia, Ohio, Florida and other states deemed more important to victory.

Fewer ads also means potentially lower prices in the expensive Philadelphia and Pittsburgh television markets, which is good news for state-level campaigns operating with considerably less cash than the presidential ones.

But it’s not all good news for the state-level campaigns.

But if the 2012 presidential ads are gone for good in Pennsylvania, there could be negative affects for both parties’ down-ticket races.

The presidential coattails may be tougher to ride.

For starters, races with lower visibility often depend on the presidential races at the top of the ticket to get voters to the polls. If Obama and Romney don’t reverse course and bring their ads back to Pennsylvania, it could mean lower turnout on Election Day because voters see the presidential race as a foregone conclusion.

Alternatively, with both major parties struggling to energize their bases before the election, having fewer presidential ads in the mix might make it harder to gin up support for the state-level races.

Aren Platt, executive director for the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, said Republican super PACs pulling out of Pennsylvania would make it harder for the GOP to generate support for their candidates all along the ballot.

“We’re going to be doing everything we need to win,” he said. “Enthusiasm is definitely down on the Republican side.”

Former Gov. Ed Rendell said last week at the Democratic National Convention that Pennsylvania was still in play for the presidential race.

But Gov. Tom Corbett and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, the two most prominent Republican elected officials from Pennsylvania, told reporters Wednesday that Republicans’ ground plan was still going strong despite the lack of an air attack.

Corbett said the campaign was not going to be decided by “one size fits all” television advertisements.

“Races are really won on the personal level of getting organizations out there campaigning,” he said.

Prominent Democrats — including former Gov. Ed Rendell — have recently argued that the state is still in play for the presidential election as well.

Still, all recent polls of likely voters in the state have shown a lead of between five and nine points for Obama, and the decision by major advertisers on both sides to take their money elsewhere leaves most observers feeling like the race is all but over in the Keystone State.

Even with the presidential election on the sidelines for now, other campaigns have to have enough resources to make a serious play for voters’ attention, Borick said.

“A good presidential election year sucks all the oxygen out of everything else,” Borick said. “This at least opens a window for them to steal some of the spotlight.”

Time will tell if any of them do.

Contact Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com and follow @PAIndependent on Twitter.


Eric Boehm was a national regulatory reporter for Watchdog.org.