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First Thoughts: Team Romney's big ad-spending advantage

Team Romney’s big ad-spending advantage… This week alone, it’s outspending Team Obama nearly 2-to-1… And that advantage has been present for much of the past month… But it’s a different story on Hispanic TV… This week’s 10 hottest advertising markets… Obama hammers Romney on taxes… How does the Romney camp respond (beyond hitting the Tax Policy Center)?... On the trail: Romney stumps in Colorado, while Obama campaigns in Florida and Virginia… And what the Chick-fil-A controversy tells us.

Kacper Pempel / REUTERS

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivers foreign policy remarks at the University of Warsaw Library, July 31.

*** Team Romney’s big ad-spending advantage: While it’s technically correct that the Obama campaign is outspending the Romney campaign in TV advertising in the battleground states, you can’t say the same thing when adding all the outside groups. Right now, Team Romney -- the campaign, the RNC, and all the GOP-leaning outside groups -- is outspending Team Obama (campaign, DNC, outside groups) this week by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, $25 million to $14 million. That $25 million, in fact, is more than we’ve seen from one side during any other week this cycle. Here’s the full breakdown on this week’s ad spending (from July 30 to Aug. 5), according to data from SMG Delta: Obama $12.8 million, Crossroads GPS $9.7 million, Romney $8.1 million, Restore Our Future $3.8 million, RNC $2.5 million, Priorities USA $1 million, American Crossroads $940,000. Note that Crossroads GPS is outspending the Romney camp right now, and the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity has booked a multimillion buy slated to begin next week.

*** And it’s been that way for the past month: What’s more, Team Romney has enjoyed this ad-spending edge for much of the past month. Last week (starting July 23), for example, it was Team Romney’s $22 million vs. Team Obama’s nearly $15 million; the week before that (July 16), it was Team Romney’s $19 million vs. Team Obama’s $10 million; and the week before that (July 9), it was Team Romney’s $13 million vs. Team Obama’s $9 million. You have to go back to July 2 to see when there was true parity between the two advertising forces. So while some -- like Karl Rove in today’s Wall Street Journal -- might observe that the Obama campaign’s ad spending hasn’t really moved the needle, you could also make another argument. For the past month, Team Romney has enjoyed a sizable ad-spending advantage, and that hasn’t moved the needle, either. (And considering what’s popping inside some of the polls, you can make an argument that Team Obama appears to be, for now, getting more bang for its buck.)

Time's Rick Stengel joins Morning Joe to discuss why this year's race for the White House will be both the most expensive campaign in history and the most negative campaign in history.

*** But it’s a different story on Hispanic TV: Yet one place where Team Obama has a definite ad-spending edge over Team Romney is on Hispanic media -- a total of $6.1 million to $521,000. Here’s the breakdown on Hispanic media to date: Obama campaign $3.6 million, SEIU/Priority USA $2.5 million, and Romney camp $521,000. By the way, this week is Romney’s first major expenditure on Hispanic TV; it had bought an occasional market here or there this summer, but this week marks the campaign’s first full entry into the Hispanic arena in a slew of states. In fact, here’s a current market-by-market snapshot of this ad spending for this week:

Orlando (Obama$68K, Romney $20K)
Denver (Obama $66K, Romney $21K)
Las Vegas (Obama $46K, Romney $16K)
Miami (Obama $37K, Romney $12K)
Washington DC (Obama $34K)
Tampa (Obama $31k)
Reno (Obama $24K, Romney $4K)
Colorado Springs (Obama $19K, Romney $4K)
Cleveland (Obama$10K, Romney $5K)
Raleigh (Romney $7K)
Columbus (Obama $5K)
Richmond (Obama $4K)

*** This week’s 10 hottest markets: And speaking of markets, here’s our weekly look at the 10 hottest advertising markets of the week (in terms of advertising points from July 30 to Aug. 5). The observations here: Three of the top 10 markets are in Ohio, including top-ranked Cincinnati (if you’ve ever wondered whatever became of your attack ads, they are living on the air in Cincinnati); three are in Virginia; two are in Nevada, including Las Vegas, which makes its first appearance on our list; and two are in Colorado, which comes back to our list after the Aurora shooting. Two battleground states NOT on this list: North Carolina and Iowa.

1. Cincinnati, OH (Obama 1600, Romney 1100, Crossroads 880, RNC 190, ROF 275)
2. Richmond-Petersburg, VA (Obama 1300, Romney 1200, Crossroads 895, RNC 215, ROF/200, Priorities/170)
3. Reno, NV (Crossroads 1500, Obama 1200, Romney 700, RNC 150, ROF 120)
4. Columbus, OH (Obama 1300, Romney 1000, Crossroads 700, RNC 200, ROF 200, Priorities 200)
5. Colorado Springs, CO (Obama 1250, Romney 975, Crossroads 620, RNC 240, ROF 225, Priorities 140)
6. Las Vegas, NV (Obama 1100, Crossroads 1100, Romney 775, RNC 200, ROF 120)
7. Cleveland, OH (Obama 1400, Romney 800, Crossroads 450, RNC 215, Priorities 200, ROF 150)
8. Norfolk-Portsmouth, VA (Obama 1100, Romney 1000, Crossroads 720, RNC 200)
9. Denver, CO (Romney 1100, Obama 700, Crossroads 575, RNC 300, ROF 300, Priorities 250)
10. Roanoke Lynchburg, VA (Obama 1000, Romney 900, Crossroads 700, RNC 200, Priorities/180)

*** Obama hammers Romney on taxes: On the campaign trail, the Romney camp is learning the lesson that if you don’t provide the details of your plan, then others will do that for you. And that’s precisely what Team Obama is doing with this new Tax Policy Center report. “They found that if Gov. Romney wants to keep his word and pay for this [tax] plan then he’d have to cut tax breaks that middle-class families depend on,” Obama said yesterday in Ohio, per NBC’s Ali Weinberg. “The average middle-class family with children, according to this study, would be hit with a tax increase of more than $2,000.” And today, the Obama camp is up with a new TV ad making this same point. It concludes, “Mitt Romney’s middle-class tax increase: He pays less, you pay more.” The Romney campaign’s response to this charge is particularly telling. First, it charged that the non-partisan Tax Policy Center is liberal and that one of the report’s co-authors worked in the Obama White House. (But it turns out that another co-author worked for George W. Bush.) Second, it says that the report underestimates the economic growth that will come with the tax reform, but that’s just an assumption and, well, it’s hard to do math based on assumptions. To their credit, the Tax Policy Center did their best to use any mathematical assumption they could in Romney’s favor and still came to the conclusion that they did.

*** How will the Romney camp respond? With this attack, the Romney campaign faces two choices. One, it could announce what tax loopholes it plans to close to pay for its tax cuts (so the Obama camp and Tax Policy Center aren’t doing it for the campaign). Or two, it could decide that its big tax cuts won’t be paid for. Well, it looks like Team Romney might be choosing Option 1. At 9:30 am, the campaign is hosting a conference call “to discuss Mitt Romney’s plan for a stronger middle class,” according to a press release. Will we see the offsets from this plan or in this conference call? And here’s a final point to make here: How the Obama campaign is hammering Romney on taxes is EXACTLY what it did to John McCain four years ago. Indeed, it’s striking that in last week’s NBC/WSJ poll, Obama held a two-point advantage over Romney (40%-38%) on which candidate would be better on taxes. If you’re the Republican Party -- whose entire modern identity has been built on lowering taxes -- you don’t want to be essentially even with Obama on this question.

*** On the trail: Romney today holds his first campaign events since returning from his overseas trip. He stumps in Golden, CO (outside of Denver) at 1:15 pm ET and joins GOP governors (who are meeting in the state) in Basalt, CO at 5:50 pm ET… Obama, meanwhile, campaigns in Winter Park, FL (outside of Orlando) at 2:40 pm ET and then in Leesburg, VA at 7:40 pm ET… And First Lady Michelle Obama is in New Hampshire. 

*** Issues of substance, eh? A day after Romney got back from his trip to Europe and lamented to FOX that the media doesn’t want to talk about issues of substance -- outlining things like the economy, possible wars, the direction of Afghanistan, etc. -- Romney’s campaign and the RNC were focusing on other matters. Instead, they turned their attention yesterday (in emails and a conference call) to things like 1) a lack of transparency from the White House for Jim Messina having meetings at Caribou coffee, 2) the proposed closing of the base in Ohio Obama was flying into, and 3) accusations of bias from the Tax Policy Center. Wonder why David Brooks feels like this campaign has been all “intellectual stagnation?”

*** Eat Mor Chikin: The controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A has certainly been a shiny metal object. But if anything, it does show how culturally divided this country still is. And it shows that social issues can surface at any moment. And it’s a reminder how easy it is for politicians to look like silly grandstanders. But, of course, that’s not new.

Countdown to GOP convention: 25 days
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Countdown to Election Day: 96 days

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