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Wesleyan Project Analyzes Campaign Spending

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By SUSAN HAIGH and EVERTON BAILEY Jr., Associated Press Writers

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ If Connecticut voters feel like they’ve seen a lot of Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon on TV lately, they’re right.

A new analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project at Wesleyan University shows about 70 percent of the ads for Connecticut’s Senate race over the past month were paid for by McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment who has spent more than $41 million so far on the race against Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to win the seat now held by U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd.

Erika Franklin Fowler, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan and director of the project, said there’s been an unprecedented increase in spending on political TV ads in Connecticut and nationwide.

“We have some incredibly competitive races,” she said in an interview Thursday. “We always tend to see increases in spending and in volume of advertising in competitive races. But this cycle, there’s a lot at stake.”

Wesleyan’s most recent analysis of political TV advertising shows McMahon’s Senate campaign accounted for $5.2 million of the $7.4 million spent on Senate race TV ads from Sept. 1 _ the traditional start of the general election campaign season– through Oct. 7. Blumenthal spent $1.8 million on TV ads during the same period.

The figures include any spending in neighboring New York, Rhode Island or Massachusetts on Connecticut Senate ads that could reach voters in border communities.

Meanwhile, an Associated Press review of political advertising contracts at the state’s CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox affiliates shows McMahon is expected to continue dominating the airwaves between now and Election Day on Nov. 2.

While it’s important for a challenger like McMahon, who has never held political office before, to use TV advertising to become known to voters, Fowler said McMahon is “over the bar as far as that goes” and could run the risk of decreasing returns on her TV ad investment.

“Time will tell how it plays out for her,” Fowler said.

A Suffolk University Poll released Thursday shows Blumenthal leading McMahon by 18 percentage points, 57 percent to 39 percent, among likely voters. Two percent of voters remain undecided in the race. That’s a jump from an Oct. 14 Quinnipiac University Poll, where Blumenthal led McMahon among likely voters by 11 percentage points.
Blumenthal’s lead in a Sept. 28 Quinnipiac survey was three percentage points.

The Suffolk telephone poll of 500 likely voters, conducted Oct. 19-20, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Records show McMahon prepurchased hundreds of TV spots on Connecticut stations over the final two weeks of the campaign, spending at least $1 million. That figure does not include commercials purchased at WVIT-TV, the NBC affiliate, where records indicate McMahon’s campaign spent $275,225 on 730 spots between Sept. 27 and Nov. 2.

Blumenthal’s campaign has purchased more than $611,000 in ads over the final two weeks of the election. Unlike McMahon, that figure does include the WVIT-TV ad buys.

Rich Hanley, an assistant journalism professor at Quinnipiac University, said McMahon’s spending on TV ads is unprecedented for Connecticut but understandable considering how fragmented television has become, with different ages of viewers watching different programs on cable and network channels.

“She’s gone into every possible demographic, every possible cohort and purchased ad time to reach those cohorts, and she’s done it with different ads,” Hanley said.

Records show McMahon’s campaign has purchased advertising on a wide variety of TV shows, ranging from People’s Court, at $200 for a 30-second spot, to Law & Order: SVU at $2,800 per ad. She’s also running ads on Spanish language cable stations.

“She’s been covering all bases. She needs to be ubiquitous and she certainly is,” Hanley said. “She’s talked her way onto the stage, and she’s paid her way to get onto the stage.”

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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