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Romney's record-setting ad strategy appears to pay off

  • Story Highlights
  • Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has aired 10,000 ads
  • Former Massachusetts governor has spent $8 million on ads since February
  • Ads aired in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida
  • Sen. John McCain takes to airwaves for first time, with New Hampshire ad buy
  • Next Article in Politics »
By Mark Preston
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain are marking "firsts" in their bids for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the first 2008 presidential candidate to run at least 10,000 ads.

McCain took to the airwaves for the first time this weekend to tout his candidacy, with an ad buy in New Hampshire. But Romney's milestone is the one that's truly head-shaking. And record-setting.

He's the first presidential candidate to run at least 10,000 political ads this election cycle, according to an analysis conducted by TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG, CNN's consultant on political advertising spending.

That's a record for the number of ads run at this point in a presidential primary campaign.

No other White House hopeful is expected to catch up with Romney anytime soon -- unless a candidate immediately opens up the campaign war chest and begins to saturate the airwaves.

"This shows that Romney is a force to be reckoned with, and he clearly is relying on paid advertising and paid media to move his campaign," said Evan Tracey, chief operating officer of TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG.

Tracey noted that Romney's media buys are "probably the quietest 10,000 commercials you will ever see" in a presidential campaign. The ads have aired almost exclusively in Iowa and New Hampshire, with a smaller number of runs in South Carolina and Florida.

While they may be called the quietest, these ads haven't been cheap. Romney has spent about $8 million on his commercials since they began airing in February.

In contrast, McCain has spent the better part of the summer rebuilding his campaign after an internal implosion brought it to its knees. Poor fundraising, questionable management of campaign funds and a large, expensive staff forced the candidate to make a midcourse correction.

Now working with a leaner operation, he has slowly returned to his feisty form -- a trait that supporters and the media embraced in his failed 2000 bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

McCain's ad buy is designed to help him build support in New Hampshire, a state he won in 2000. The candidate checks in at 18 percent, up six percentage points from a July survey, in the latest CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire.

The path to the GOP nomination begins for McCain in New Hampshire, while Romney is eyeing an earlier start.

If there is one candidate hoping to catch a wave out of Iowa, it's Romney.

The ex-Massachusetts governor is working hard to use an Iowa win to carry him to victories in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida before heading into "Super Tuesday."

In addition to his ad buys in Iowa, Romney was the only major candidate to participate in the state's Republican Party straw poll in August. By pouring money and resources into the event, he won the contest, which is viewed as a test of organizational strength.

So far, Romney's television advertising strategy appears to be paying off. He leads his GOP rivals in the most recent Newsweek poll of Iowa caucus-goers and remains one of the top choices of New Hampshire Republicans with 25 percent, according to the CNN/WMUR poll. (Romney's support slipped significantly in the recent CNN/WMUR poll -- he was at 34 percent in July -- but he remains a favorite in this crucial early state.)

Nationally, it's a different story for Romney. His name recognition remains low, but Iowa and New Hampshire Republicans will be the first to cast votes in the election, as one Romney adviser points out.

Until now, Romney's GOP rivals have "basically ceded the airwaves" to him, said Tracey of TNS Media Intelligence/CMAG.

However, Tracey noted this near-monopoly likely will change as January nears. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee will up the ante once they decide to put an emphasis on television advertising.

On the Democratic side, a review of television ad buying shows that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is the leader, having run more than 4,300 spots in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Richardson's decision to invest early in these states appears to be a wise move that has helped boost his candidacy. The Newsweek poll of Iowa caucus-goers has Richardson at 10 percent, while he is running in fourth place in New Hampshire, according to the CNN/WMUR poll. (Richardson did lose ground between the July and September CNN/WMUR polls, but it is support he likely would not have experienced had it not been for his clever "job interview" television commercials.)

Meanwhile, the Democratic front-runners also have kept the focus on Iowa and New Hampshire, with the former state getting the most attention. Between the two states, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has aired more than 3,300 commercials, compared with nearly 1,700 for Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York.

While this amount of advertising might seem overwhelming, it is just the beginning. Tracey said the next three months is traditionally the busiest time for political TV commercials. If you live in an early voting state, you may want to keep the remote control close at hand. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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