N2K Presidential Race: Obama’s Big Ad Buy Sends Big Message

National Journal Staff

In politics, you never want to let your opponent see you sweat. But the Obama campaign’s decision to go up with an early, expensive $25 million ad buy in nine swing states is a clear sign that the campaign, despite its spin, recognizes that this will be a close, tough race against Mitt Romney.

The buy was no rinky-dink purchase--it cost nearly one-quarter of Obama’s war chest, which was $104 million at the beginning of April. Going up with such a significant buy this early is the equivalent of abandoning the running game in football when your team is down by a couple of touchdowns--even with a top-notch quarterback.

The primary ad, a 60-second spot called “Go,” lacks a cohesive message. The first part underscores how severe the recession was, a preemptive defense for why the economy hasn’t turned around faster. The second half argues that America is “coming back,” thanks to a growing number of jobs over the past year—and that may be a very tough sell. Indeed, top Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg advised the campaign in February that this type of message--saying things are getting better when voters don’t agree--polls terribly “and produces disastrous results.”

But the campaign can’t utilize the time-tested “Are you better than you were four years ago?” message because the answer may be negative, so it has to argue that things are getting a little better and that the administration needs more time. 

It underscores how limited Obama’s playbook is this time around: Mobilize the base, lambaste the opposition, and hope enough independents will hold their nose and vote for you. If the campaign is already confident of victory, as Time’s Mark Halperin reported on Monday, they’re putting on some awfully good game faces.

Josh Kraushaar, Hotline executive editor


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