Obama takes his message to primetime

October 29, 2008 8:25:44 AM PDT
Six days before Election Day, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will dominate primetime television tonight in one of his final moves to win the White House. Obama is reaching out to a sweeping audience less than a week before decision day with a half-hour special scheduled to air tonight at 8 p.m. on most major television networks. NBC, CBS and Fox will air the program. ABC will not air Obama's message, instead broadcasting "Pushing Daisies" in its normal time slot.

Just what Obama will say, how highly produced and polished the program will be, and most of all, how effective his remarks will be in winning over undecided voters remains to be seen. Still, some said the more lengthy forum could be a welcome departure from short, stinging attack ads, back-and-forth debates, and political rallies.

"This is great, I would like to see a half hour without cheering crowds," said Robert Thompson, professor at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications. "The thing I don't like about it is, I'd also like to see John McCain give us a half hour."

But not everyone agrees that Obama's push on television is a good thing.

On Monday night, Michelle Obama jokingly told Jay Leno that her daughter, Malia, was among those who objected.

"She said, 'Are you gonna interrupt my TV?'" Michelle Obama said.

Told her father would not be gracing Disney and Nickelodeon, Malia said, "Oh, good," and walked away, Michelle Obama told Leno.

Campaign Advertising Money

McCain is not slated to make a similar final plug, and Obama has more money at his disposal to spend it appealing to primetime masses. To air Obama's 30-minute message, his campaign is reportedly spending about $1 million per network.

The huge buy is the grand finale in the Obama campaign's monster advertising effort. A recent study on television advertisement spending, conducted by Campaign Media Analysis Group, found that Obama spent nearly $7 million more than McCain and the RNC between Sept. 28 and Oct. 4. During that time alone, Obama spent $17.5 million while McCain spent $11 million.

Both Obama and McCain are spending ad dollars in battleground states like Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

Financial discrepancies aside, McCain brushed off the idea Tuesday that he, too, would opt for a primetime special.

"No one will delay a World Series game with an infomercial when I'm president," McCain told voters in Pennsylvania, appealing to Phillies fans backing their team in the championship. Fox, scheduled to air the World Series tonight, agreed to delay the game by 15 minutes for Obama's program.

Lengthy TV Ads Have Historic Precedent

While the amount of money Obama's camp is spending tonight may be unusual, the notion of politicians taking to the airwaves to disseminate lengthier messages is not unprecedented.

In 1952, Adlai Stevenson bought several 30-minute spots on television during his run against Dwight Eisenhower, to little avail.

In 1952, Eisenhower's candidate for vice president, Richard Nixon, also defended himself against accusations about an unethical campaign fund via a 30-minute television spot. During the now famous "Checkers" speech, Nixon spoke about his family and his dog, Checkers, as he explained his finances.

And while half-hour presentations are full of opportunity to win voters, they're also filled with opportunities to say something wrong, spark controversy and lose them. Most recently, independent candidate Ross Perot purchased lengthy TV spots to make his case for what would ultimately become an unsuccessful bid for president in 1992.

"The reason everybody's thinking it's new now is that nobody's done it since Perot in 1992," Thompson said.

What We Can Expect

It's expected that Obama will use the venue to reiterate his closing arguments before Election Day.

But of course, Obama's final word will not be his final word at all.

Just hours after his primetime spot, the Illinois senator will also appear on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," via satellite from the battleground state of Florida.

McCain, too, will appear on TV, as he is scheduled to be interviewed today on CNN's "Larry King Live."

The candidates will also spend the remaining days of the election battling in the states where they most critically need a win.

And no matter who tunes into Obama's spot, Thompson stressed that the Obama campaign was clever to shoot for the Wednesday night preceding the election instead of Monday night immediately before the big day.

"Even if no Americans actually watch this on CBS, NBC and Fox, it's going to be playing all over the place," Thompson said. "He has a very good chance of hijacking most of the news coverage for Thursday and Friday."

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