The airwaves in South Carolina are a lot like anyplace else. You’ve got car dealers dressed in silly clothes talking about their deals, and of course commercials for carpet and furniture showrooms.
But South Carolina TV viewers are also seeing a lot of spots from Republican presidential candidates and the superPACs supporting them.
Ken Goldstein, who tracks campaign media spending for Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, says there is a noticeable difference in the ad war in South Carolina compared with the two earlier nominating states.
“What’s going on in South Carolina is everyone’s having their say. So, Iowa was heavy, but Rick Santorum or the Rick Santorum superPAC … was not up on the air very much in Iowa. The Newt Gingrich superPAC was not up on the air in Iowa. In South Carolina, everybody’s up,” says Goldstein.
One of the reasons for the heavy ad buys in South Carolina: TV time in the nation’s 24th most populous state is a relative bargain.
Charles Bierbauer, dean of the University of South Carolina’s College of Mass Communications and a former CNN correspondent, says you can get a lot of bang for your advertising buck in the Palmetto State.
“Three million dollars or any number of dollars goes a long way in South Carolina,” says Bierbauer. “The television markets are modest in size, so you can do pretty well here. You can blanket the state by hitting Charleston, Columbia and the upstate market, maybe a little bit down in Myrtle Beach and you’re done with it.”
That compares with the next state in the primary season, Florida, with major markets like Miami and Orlando, where ad buys will be far more expensive.
Perhaps the biggest reason for all the ads and spending in South Carolina is that this may be the last best chance for the other candidates to stop the front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, says Goldstein.
“Everybody realizes that if Mitt Romney wins South Carolina this race is going to be over,” he says. “And so it makes no sense to save any money for anything down the line because there’s not going to be anything down the line if Mitt Romney wins South Carolina.”
One ad that’s starting to show up on the air that’s gotten a lot of buzz attacks Romney for his involvement with the venture capital firm Bain Capital. A superPAC called Winning Our Future that backs Newt Gingrich is running the ad.
Not to be outdone, a superPAC backing Romney called Restore our Future is running its own spot, attacking Gingrich’s attack ad, saying: “Newt attacks because he has more baggage than the airlines.”
Romney himself is also on the air already looking toward the general election and President Obama.
In the ad, Romney attacks the president over a big local issue, the National Labor Relations Board’s complaint, since dropped, to stop Boeing from locating an aircraft assembly plant in this right-to-work state.
The Obama administration quickly responded, adding to the feel of a general election campaign.
And Goldstein says the number of ads a TV viewer in South Carolina is seeing is more akin to the final week of a general election than before a small state primary.