2014: To Air or Not to Air Candidates

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor never spoke in any of his television ads, other than to say he approved them.

Sen. Lindsey Graham didn’t bring up the hot-button immigration issue in his TV spots, focusing instead on South Carolina issues and his differences with President Barack Obama while running as a “conservative leader who gets things done.”

These are among some of the findings of a Political Capital analysis of television activity in the June 10 Republican primaries in Virginia’s 7th District, where Cantor was ousted by economics professor David Brat, and in South Carolina, where Graham beat six challengers. The TV ad data come from Kantar Media’s CMAG, an ad tracker, and include spots that aired on local broadcast stations.

Cantor’s campaign paid for four ads that ran 1,056 times in the Richmond-area 7th District, CMAG data show. Two of Cantor’s spots highlighted his record and opposition to Obama, while two others attacked Brat as a “liberal college professor.”

Cantor didn’t speak in any of his four broadcast ads, other than the stand-by-your-ad disclaimers required under campaign finance law.

Some political analysts have said Cantor’s negative ads, which ran 516 times, backfired on him by raising Brat’s profile and antagonizing some conservatives sympathetic to the limited-government and anti-Washington Tea Party movement. National Tea Party groups didn’t intervene in the Cantor-Brat primary.

Brat’s single ad ran 104 times and accused Cantor of insufficient opposition to Obama on health care, the federal borrowing limit and immigration.

Brat’s win “was a homegrown, grassroots conservative revolt against a politician whose constituents perceived him to be more focused on Washington than his district, and more focused on power rather than principle,” Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who lost the state’s gubernatorial election in 2013, told Bloomberg’s Annie Linskey.

The American Chemistry Council, a Washington-based trade group, ran a pro-Cantor ad 348 times.

In South Carolina, Graham’s re-election campaign ran 13 ads on local broadcast stations a total of 4,410 times, CMAG data show.

Graham’s most-aired ad, running 1,016 times in April, attacked Obama’s health-care law and promoted Graham’s bill to allow states to “opt out” of some of the law’s provisions. His next most-aired ad featured a Marine from Greenville who praised Graham’s work to secure funding for mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPs, to better protect troops from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. That spot ran 860 times on South Carolina TVs during the final two weeks of the primary.

Two more Graham ads ran more than 500 times each, and were South Carolina-specific. One ad promoted Graham’s support for Boeing Co.’s decision to open a commercial airplane production site in South Carolina, which drew a complaint from the National Labor Relations Board. The other spot touted the Port of Charleston as “vital to our economy” and noted Graham’s efforts to secure funds for deepening the port.

Here are images from the four ads that Graham’s campaign aired most frequently:


While Graham has pushed his party to overhaul immigration laws, he didn’t mention the issue in any of his ads. Graham’s opponents attacked his vote last June for a Senate-passed bill that would create a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants while directing $46.3 billion toward securing the border with Mexico. 

Graham’s TV ads never mentioned any of his six opponents, who combined to win 44 percent of the vote compared with Graham’s 56 percent. Three of them — Det Bowers, Richard Cash and Nancy Mace — aired ads on broadcast television a total of 930 times, or about one-fifth Graham’s total. Graham’s advantage on the airwaves was even more lopsided if you include four outside groups that ran pro-Graham ads a total of 2,160 times, according to CMAG.

“I think I defined myself in a very good way,” Graham said June 15 on CNN. “I had an air game and a ground game very coordinated. Politics is war in another form.”

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