Just How Big is $3 Million in Iowa Political Ads?

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Rick Perry campaign and the pro-Romney super PAC have each purchased $3 million in Iowa television advertising between now and Jan. 3.

It may cost almost $3 million to air Doritos ads during the Super Bowl, but that gets the eyeballs of 111 million viewers. Iowa's total population is 3 million. So what do you get for $3 million?

Iowans ready to throw the TV through the window... It is "honey, we gotta stock up at Blockbuster cause I can't take it any more" repetition.

Every commercial break between now and Jan. 3 is guaranteed to have multiple spots, not just the news. Squeeze that much money into so short a time, the ad buyers will be making insertions into everything from Frosty the Snowman to Ellen. (Can't wait for my wife to report the Perry spot she sees there...)

For perspective, in 2010 Terry Branstad ran a statewide campaign against two GOP primary opponents in June, and then defeated a democrat incumbent governor in November -- and spent $5 million on television. Total. Five months. $5 million.

I'm sure Newt looks at it this way -- it's how much he raised this quarter, minus the debt his campaign owes. With no super PAC it will be fascinating to see how the Speaker copes with the wall to wall coverage.

The real challenge with such a large buy is how to balance it. No airing a hatchet job on Christmas eve. But when to resume? Do you start your closing argument during bowl games? The only thing keeping Iowans from unplugging their TVs is the need to watch their 'Hawks and 'Clones bowls Dec. 30.

Making it difficult is Iowa's 7 distinct broadcast markets in addition to dozens of cable operators. For broadcast television, Sioux City covers the northwest corner of the state (as well as a whole lot of South Dakota and Nebraska). To reach the southwestern area you buy out of Omaha Nebraska, increasing the cost. Central Iowa from north to south is covered by Des Moines. There are affiliates in southern Ottumwa, and northern Mason City. Davenport owns east; again advertising to caucus goers in Illinois. The northeast triangle of Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque each has one of the big three networks advertising into the other cities.

As Republican caucus leader buying television ads for our candidates, I experienced the frustration of trying to cover such a large geographic area with multiple viewing areas. Fully one third of Iowa's population lives on the border of a neighboring state, meaning you either fully inform someone else's voters, or let your own remain in the dark.

All of that is a long way of saying that buying television is an expensive prospect for a state with a small population. But this is unprecedented.

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