If a political candidate is trying to reach New Hampshire voters over the television airwaves, the Patriots-Giants game during the pre-New Year's weekend was one golden chance.
At least that is what five of the top presidential contenders were betting on, and it's a gamble that didn't come cheap - $10,000 for a 30-second spot. Democrats, and joined Republicans and in buying ad time during the big game.
Romney even paid an extra $5,000 for his spot to be sure he wouldn't get bumped.
Football isn't the only way to a primary voter's heart - and ballot. A review by Politico of all the ad buys placed on Manchester-based WMUR, New Hampshire's only statewide network, offers a glimpse into how campaigns are targeting their ad messages to their favored voting bloc.
Obama, who is reaching out to young voters, is among the most frequent buyers of time on "Ugly Betty," "Private Practice," "Grey's Anatomy," "Dirty Sexy Money," "The Women's Murder Club" and a host of other popular prime-time shows.
Clinton, who is relying on strong support from women, popped up in "Desperate Housewives," "Boston Legal" and other nighttime hits. But her buys were also weighted more to such midday programming as Martha Stewart and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"
Edwards, whose appeal is rooted in fighting for the little guy, is the only candidate to buy time during the Facebook debates. Meanwhile, Republicanunorthodox campaign stayed true to itself, bucking a long-standing advertising trend by not buying any time in the inexpensive daytime soap operas.
WMUR General Manager Jeff Bartlett is one of the chief beneficiaries of such political ad wars. In an interview at his station, Bartlett noted that Romney was the first campaign to go on air. "Generally, you don't get a lot of heavy spending until July or August," he said. Romney went up in February 2007, six months earlier in the cycle than the first ad in 2003.
Since then, Romney's campaign has spent more than $3.6 million on advertising on WMUR alone, running 3,600 ads, according to ad buys and Dante Scala, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. Scala, who has been tracking ad buys on WMUR, said that translates into more than 10 ads a day in the 314 days since the first Romney ads went up.
The former Massachusetts governor's ad buys could amount to more than three times the money that will be spent by his closest competitors. By Tuesday's primary, Arizona Sen. McCain, who is leading the polls, will spend just over $1 million; former New York Mayorwill spend just under a million.
Paul, a Texas congressman, will top out at about $270,000, barely more than what Romney spends in a week. The newly enriched Iowa caucus winner, former Arkansas Gov. , started late and will wind up spending the least, with about $160,000 in ad time.
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See campaign ads from all the candidates.
Of the big-name Republicans, only former Tennessee Sen.is not running ads on WMUR, a sure sign of the financial struggles dogging the once highly touted latecomer to the race.
Among Democrats, Obama is leading the pack at WMUR, spending $2.2 million. Clinton is close behind, spending $1.9 million. Edwards will spend about $1.2 million andis holding on with $700,000 in television ads.
All of these numbers are gross and include the commission taken by the media firm when applicable.
Timing is important in advertising, but so is content. Candidates are constantly searching for that break-through commercial that will resonate with and be remembered by voters.
On that score, the underdog Richardson campaign had some early luck with a good-natured Aprilad showing the New Mexico governor in a mock job interview that highlighted his humor and his lengthy resume. The commercial "really broke through for him," said Bartlett.
All of the campaigns bought time in such television staples as the Sunday morning talk shows, "Good Morning America," "Oprah," and the local news broadcasts. Indeed, that lineup pretty much constitutes Huckabee's buying except for a few spots salted into Ellen DeGeneres' talk show, "20/20" and "Nightline."
For wealthier campaigns, more options become available. Even the Christmas season was not off the table.
Giuliani's campaign bought spots in "Shrek the Halls," "The Polar Express," "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" to reach parents snuggled up with their children during the pre-primary holidays.
Romney placed ads in "Santa Clause 2" and "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" and "Shrek." And most candidates with money to burn opted to buy time in such classics as "The Sound of Music" and "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve."
The condensed primary calendar also put a host of high-profile, year-end sporting events on the list of hot potential advertising opportunities.
In addition to the Pats-Giants game, McCain used precious resources to buy ads in the Capital One Bowl and the Rose Bowl games, along with the Tournament of Roses Parade.
Romney, Edwards and Obama also bought time in the bowl games, dropping as much as $6,500 for 30-second spots, but they skipped the parade. Edwards was the only campaign to add the All American High School Football Game to his mix.
Several campaigns were adding spots to their buys up to the very last minute. Edwards and McCain have placed ads in WMUR's pre-primary show, airing Monday night, just eight hours before the first polls open.
McCain's buy also includes a request, "Do not air any spots after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 8." The majority of New Hampshire polls close at 7 p.m.