Youd never know it from the avalanche of TV ads, direct-mail pieces and phone calls that voters will receive in October, but most campaigns have only another week or two to change the likely outcome of their contests.
Sure, the midterm elections are still five weeks away, but the combination of early voting in many states and the difficulty of cutting through the coming clutter means that the best opportunity for campaigns to change voter attitudes is quickly coming to an end.
More than 30 states allow voters to cast their ballots well before Election Day. Early voting begins Oct. 9 in Arizona and Oct. 11 in Illinois. Early voting in Indiana starts 29 days before the Nov. 2 general election. In Wisconsin, its three weeks before Election Day. In Florida, early voting starts 15 days before the election.
Early voting has changed the tempo of campaigns, lessening the value of late TV spots and late campaign developments.
For Democrats, the summer particularly August and September has been their best opportunity to change the trajectory of individual races. Few have succeeded in doing so.
Many incumbent Democrats, flush with cash, were able to get on TV with ads intended both to strengthen their own numbers and to drive up the negative ratings of their opponents.
With GOP candidates husbanding their resources for October and outside Republican groups focused more on Senate contests, Democratic incumbents have often been able to deliver their messages without comparable Republican messaging.
In Virginias 5th district, for example, freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello ran broadcast TV ads in the Charlottesville and Roanoke markets from late June (a couple of weeks after the states primary) to the middle of July and again from mid-August to mid-September.
Republican nominee Robert Hurt answered with a two-week buy in late August and another two-week buy in mid-September, and the NRCC started its medium-size buy in mid-September. But the early advertising advantage was Perriellos, and the Democrat had the early financial edge to expand that early advertising edge had he wanted to.
In Floridas 24th district, incumbent Suzanne Kosmas (D) had a small buy in Orlando in early September, increased it to a substantial buy for a week in mid-September and ran a medium-size buy the following week, for a total of more than 1,400 gross ratings points through Sept. 26.
Kosmas buy during the time was unchallenged by the Republican nominee, Sandy Adams, or by the NRCC. Only one outside group ran a small buy (200 points a week) starting Sept. 9
The Democrats ads were effective but only to a point. Recent Democratic polling showed she improved on the ballot by two points in late August to late September, from 43 percent to 45 percent. Adams, in contrast, slipped from 49 percent to 43 percent.
Kosmas certainly improved her position in the race. But she remains in the mid-40s in the ballot test, and Republicans are now ready to begin their attacks on the Congresswoman. Her prospects remain dim, though not as dim as they were a month ago.
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