Monday, October 11, 2004

Toledo Hit By Political Ads

If you’re in a battleground state like Ohio, you’re probably sick of the non-stop political ads. The nexus of the ad wars is in Toledo, according to the Washington Post.

TOLEDO — The cacophony starts before the first light of dawn, like an agitated rooster. It doesn’t quit until after the last bar in this hardworking town has stopped serving.

“I’m George W. Bush and I approved this message.”

“John Kerry offers a fresh start . . . ”

“I’m not a big fan of Bush, but what’s Kerry gonna do for me?”

Just about anywhere Toledoans turn their television dials these days, another commercial for the presidential campaign is on the screen. They interrupt “Jeopardy!” and “The Bachelor,” the soap operas and the 6 o’clock news. A curiosity when they began to trickle onto the air back in March, the ads now tumble forth in a relentless parade of persuasion.

Between March and late September, 14,273 commercials about the presidential race aired on Toledo’s four leading TV stations, according to the ad tracking firm TNSI/Campaign Media Analysis Group of Arlington. That number makes this smokestack city at the western tip of Lake Erie the epicenter of the presidential air wars; Toledo ranks as the most advertised-to market of any in the big battleground states.

The city’s elevated profile has something to do with its cross-border locale — TV signals here lap over into southern Michigan, another swing state — but it is mostly because of Toledo’s prominence in the heated battle for Ohio’s 20 electoral votes. The city is the urban center of northwestern Ohio, which could be the most closely contested region in this critical swing state.

Although Toledo and surrounding Lucas County are reliably Democratic, the 12-county area reached by the city’s TV stations is not. President Bush defeated Democrat Al Gore in this part of the state by about 17,000 votes in 2000, 50 percent to 46 percent. Republicans are counting again on the surrounding rural counties, such as Williams and Defiance by the Indiana line, to offset Democratic strength among unionized workers and African Americans closer to town.


This has certainly been good news for Toledo’s depressed local economy, or at least for the four TV stations that are broadcasting almost all of the commercials. Spending on political spots in Toledo will surpass $8 million between July and Election Day, estimated Mary Gerken, general sales manager of WTVG, the city’s ABC station. This is about three times the total during the entire 2000 campaign, she said. (The Bush and Kerry campaigns declined to discuss their expenditures in detail.)


David Davis, a political science professor at the University of Toledo, said all the advertising has the same motive: to sway undecided voters and to spur the faithful to show up on Election Day. But he noted that advertising can do only so much in a political campaign. Organizational work such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, as well as day-to-day developments in the campaign count, too, Davis said.

Indeed, the ad barrage raises an obvious question: Is anyone being persuaded by all of this?

In some ways, it is almost irrelevant in Toledo. [Jim ]Ruvolo [Kerry’s Ohio campaign chair] acknowledges there is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy driving the air wars here: Both sides feel they have to have ads on the air simply because the other guy has his ads on the air. “It is kind of an arms race,” he said, a bit sheepishly.

I’m sure my parents are getting sick of the ads, but hey, if it’s any consolation, we’re getting the same treatment here in Miami – and in three languages.