Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign is going negative in its advertising against the expected Democratic nominee, Sen. Barack Obama.
The Wisconsin Advertising Project, a nonpartisan group that monitors and analyzes political advertising, finds that ads aired by McCain and the Republican National Committee are "more negative" than those aired by Obama. Ninety percent of Obama's ads are positive and don't mention McCain. One third of McCain's campaign ads are negative, researchers found.
And all of the RNC's ads compare the two candidates, referring to Obama negatively, the research group says.
The advertising reflects what many political experts say is the character of the campaign so far: that the election is shaping up, essentially, as a referendum on Obama's fitness to become president and commander in chief. "This campaign is about Barack Obama, not John McCain," says Ken Goldstein, the project's director.
Earlier in his campaign, McCain asserted that he would avoid negative advertising. Most recently, he has impugned Obama's patriotism over Iraq and over a stirred-up controversy about skipping a visit with wounded soldiers in Germany.
For his part, Obama is outspending the McCain campaign, with many ads focused on reassuring potential voters about his character and experience, trying to build a favorable narrative and undo the damage from the Rev. Jeremiah Wright episode.
Obama has already spent more than $27 million in television advertising, and McCain has shelled out just over $21 million in what has been shaping up to be the most expensive presidential race in the nation's history, according to the Wisconsin Advertising Project, which is affiliated with the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
From the end of the primary season in the first week of June through July 26, the candidates have aired more than 100,000 ads on broadcast television, largely in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan, compared with 77,000 ads during the same period of the 2004 presidential race.
But the project's analysis found that interest groups have aired far fewer ads this cycle than they did four years ago. And as of July 26, the Democratic National Committee had yet to air an ad. However, the Republican National Committee, whose fundraising efforts have been melded with those of the McCain campaign, had aired more than 6,000 ads and spent about $3.6 million during the same period.
Goldstein said that Obama's edge in fundraising has not yet resulted in his dominating the airways: His campaign aired 55,312 ads compared with the 52,568 aired by the McCain campaign and the RNC. "Obama's fundraising totals allow his campaign to purchase more ads," Goldstein says, "but we have yet to see that advantage translate to a massive advantage in paid media."