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Ad Spending Reveals Obama Optimism, McCain Malaise

A study by the Wisconsin Advertising Project (pdf), released today, details the McCain and Obama campaigns’ ad spending last week.

Overall, Sen. Barack Obama outspent Sen. John McCain and the Republican National Committee, $17.5 million to a combined $11 million. The Democratic nominee more than tripled McCain’s spending in the key swing states of Florida and Virginia.

A few comments on noteworthy data points:

*McCain’s third-highest state spending total ($1.25 million) was in Michigan, from which he pulled out last week. For a campaign that’s been strapped for cash, it’s clear in retrospect that the McCain folks blew a colossal amount of money in Michigan.

*The study notes that McCain devoted a higher proportion of his spending (60.2 percent to 46.5 percent for Obama) to the “Midwest battleground states” of Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Yet most of these states can’t really be considered battlegrounds at this point. According to fivethirtyeight.com, the latest polls show Obama leading McCain by 16 points in Iowa, 18 in Minnesota, 15 in Pennsylvania and 8 in Wisconsin. That leaves just Indiana and Ohio as true battlegrounds.

*Obama’s spending indicates that he’s not simply trying to win the presidency but also to redraw the electoral map and possibly to carry statewide candidates on his coattails. The largest proportional spending differential between the candidates came in North Carolina, where Obama spent $1,236,000, to McCain’s $148,000. Now, it’s extremely unlikely that Obama will win North Carolina without also winning Virginia (the two states have voted the same way all but once in the past 150 years, and North Carolina has consistently polled better for McCain), and it’s unlikely that he’ll win Virginia and lose the election. It is therefore almost inconceivable that North Carolina will tip the election — and McCain seems to realize this. But a victory in North Carolina would turn the state blue for the first time since 1976 — with potentially powerful implications for the future — and could help lift Democratic Senate candidate Kay Hagan, who’s in a very tight race with incumbent Elizabeth Dole.

Overall, the spending numbers show two important things. First, Obama is obviously spending more money in more places. Second, and perhaps more tellingly, Obama’s spending pattern reveals an underlying optimism, in contrast to McCain’s defensive pragmatism.

On another note, over the course of the entire campaign, 73 percent of McCain’s ads have been “negative,” compared to 61 percent of Obama’s. Yet last week, “nearly 100 percent” of McCain’s ads were negative, to just 34 percent for Obama.

More evidence that the Obama campaign is feeling confident, while the McCain camp is getting anxious.

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