Presidential Battleground Narrows to 10 Swing States

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:30pm EDT

( - Judging from current political advertising, the presidential race now rests in the hands of voters in 10 swing states, according to a report released Tuesday from the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project.

The dwindling number of swing states - the liberal America Coming Together put the number at 17 earlier this year - means only about a quarter of the electorate is seeing the bulk of attention in the waning days of the presidential campaign.

Media markets in 10 states - Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin - are seeing the heaviest advertising. Forty-four of the top 50 markets are located in those states, according to research by Nielson Monitor-Plus.

Missing from the list is Missouri, a state that has voted in sync with the nation all but once during the last century. But when Sen. John Kerry canceled plans to advertise in the state, Missouri lost its status as a battleground and has since moved toward President Bush's direction.

The two states inundated most by advertising - Florida and Ohio - offer a combined 47 electoral votes, which both campaigns covet but remain crucial to Bush as they were in 2000. Five of the top 10 markets are in Florida (Miami and Tampa) or Ohio (Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo).

"The end-game of this advertising battle is now purely about reaching the 270 Electoral College votes needed and focusing resources on the handful of states where the result remains in any doubt," said Ken Goldstein, director of the Wisconsin Advertising Project and politics professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

As a result, some states with only a few electoral votes have been deluged with ads. Both New Mexico and Nevada offer five electoral votes, yet Albuquerque, N.M., and Reno, Nev., rank second and third, respectively, in the number of campaign ads running in their markets.

"Even with our measly five electoral votes, people are very interested in us," said Lonna R. Atkeson, a politics professor at the University of New Mexico. "It's a close race, and we're one of the states up for grabs."

Both Kerry and Bush campaigned in New Mexico on Monday, and Kerry stayed there Tuesday to prepare for the third presidential debate in neighboring Arizona. The state barely went to Democrat Al Gore in 2000 by a margin of just 366 votes.

Nevada wasn't nearly as close four years ago, when Bush won by 21,597 votes. It is more competitive this year, judging from advertising and candidate visits, said Eric Herzik, a professor and interim dean of the University of Nevada at Reno's College of Arts and Science.

"In the past, the only time candidates saw Nevada, and particularly northern Nevada, was when they were flying over on their way to or leaving California," Herzik said. "Now, because it's clear California will go to Kerry, [California] gets far less attention, relatively speaking, than Nevada."

Neither Herzik nor Atkeson complained about the deluge of ads. Atkeson, who is conducting a study of her own, said the attention on New Mexico helps inform voters.

"One of the advantages of being in a battleground state is that we're continuously stimulated about the campaign," she said. "Voters here may be learning more about the candidates than they are in states like California or New York."

Florida, the swing state with the largest number of electoral votes, remains the battleground it was during the 2000 race and subsequent recount. University of South Florida politics professor Susan A. MacManus said some of her students are ready for the spotlight to shine elsewhere.

"[The ad campaign] started in the spring, and it hasn't let up," MacManus said. "Usually, people expect some relief in the summer, but there just hasn't been any. You can't even escape to cable [television] anymore because cable is equally targeted."

Running ads in markets like Miami and Tampa isn't cheap. But Joel Rivlin, deputy director of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, said each campaign realizes it must reach the magic number of 270 electoral votes whatever way possible.

"The places where [ads] could make a difference are the places where the margin in those states is close enough that ads can matter," Rivlin said. "Ads can only matter really at the margin. They're not going to shift 10 or 15 percent of the vote, but they could swing 5 to 7 percent of the vote, which in some of these states would be enough to win."

See Earlier Story:
By Disregarding Missouri, Kerry Gambles With History
(Oct. 8, 2004)

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