The presidential campaigns and their allies are zeroing in mainly on nine swing states, bombarding them with commercials in the earliest concentration of advertising in modern politics.
With so many resources focused on persuading an ever-shrinking pool of swing voters like those here in Nevada, the 2012 election is likely to go down in history as the one in which the most money was spent reaching the fewest people.
Much of the heaviest spending has not been in big cities with large and expensive media markets, but in small and medium-size metropolitan areas in states with little individual weight in the Electoral College: Cedar Rapids and Des Moines in Iowa (6 votes); Colorado Springs and Grand Junction in Colorado (9 votes); Norfolk and Richmond in Virginia (13 votes). Since the beginning of April, four-fifths of the ads that favored or opposed a presidential candidate have been in television markets of modest size.
(...) Given the volatility of the electorate, the map could easily expand or contract from the current nine — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia — in the weeks and months ahead. And advertising is only the most tangible sign of which states are competitive. There are other factors like voter registration and organization that play important roles.
But no recent general election advertising strategy has covered so little ground so early. In the spring of 2000, George W. Bush and Al Gore fought an air war in close to 20 states. In early 2004, there were the “Swing Seventeen.” And in 2008, the Obama campaign included 18 states in its June advertising offensive, its first of the general election.