Crossroads, Super PACs and the Incumbent Advertising Gap

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In a recent piece about the Obama-Romney ad wars, Michael Scherer made the smart point that this election is different from past ones in that the incumbent no longer gets a free hit on his rival during the period immediately following the primary. The reason: super PACs have the cash to cover that gap while the challenger collects enough general election funds to keep pace.

While Bush was able to blanket airwaves uncontested, Obama has been fending off television ad buys by four different groups that oppose the president, Crossroads GPSAmericans For Prosperity, the American Future Fund and Restore Our Future. Each of them have the ability to raise unlimited amounts of money from wealthy donors, and to spend that money tarnishing Obama’s record. As a result, Obama has been forced to play defense even as he tries to capitalize on Romney’s relative lack of general election funds. Recent court decisions, which undid campaign finance regulations that were in place in 2004, have effectively eliminated a key advantage of incumbency.

That new dynamic is on display today as Crossroads GPS, the flagship Republican super PAC, announces a $25 million TV offensive, spearheaded by an $8 million buy running in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, May 17 through May 31. The overall size of the buy and its specific swing states targets are exactly the same as those announced by the Obama campaign in their first big TV push of the year.

Here’s the Crossroads spot:

Economy bad, Obama promises broken. That’s pretty much the referendum argument Romney needs to make. Thanks to Crossroads, he doesn’t need to worry about making it on TV right this minute.

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