By the November election, anyone who has watched even a little television in Omaha likely will have repeatedly heard claims that Democratic President Barack Obama has engineered a government takeover of health care and that his Republican rival Mitt Romney grew rich while eliminating the jobs of others.
Both arguments are disputed by the candidates, but what's odd is that hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans will see the TV attack ads in the first place. If not for Omaha's location across the Missouri River from the battleground state of Iowa, the presidential ad wars would largely ignore the deep red state of Nebraska.
Democrats still hold out hope that they could win an electoral vote in the Omaha-centered 2nd Congressional District, but the main target for both parties is Iowa's six votes. The state is one of seven across the nation seen as up for grabs. The others are Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia.
For Romney to win Iowa, he needs to pile up big numbers in the state's more conservative western half.
The GOP nominee highlighted the importance of western Iowa on Friday when he held a rally in Council Bluffs.
"You'll see an enormous amount of ad spending in Omaha this year," said Elizabeth Wilner of Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political spending.
The Obama and Romney campaigns have spent $87 million on TV ads in just a handful of presidential battleground states — $6 million in Iowa alone since late April.
The roughly 890,000 people in the Omaha area have already seen plenty of presidential campaign advertising, and spending on ads is expected to rise in the coming months, said Eric Hanneman, sales director at Omaha television station KETV.
"It's just Obama at this point," Hanneman said. "Romney is not spending yet in Omaha."
However, some conservative super political action committees have been airing ads slamming Obama for several weeks.
That includes Crossroads GPS, affiliated with President George W. Bush's longtime political director Karl Rove, which has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on several ads in Omaha slamming Obama, said Crossroads GPS spokesman Nate Hodson.
"These border media markets like Omaha will definitely mean that ... folks in Omaha will have a lot of exposure to presidential ads this cycle," Hodson said.
The vast amount of money expected to be raised this year by both the campaigns and outside groups, coupled with the fact that television advertising is cheaper to buy in Omaha than in bigger metropolitan markets, means that campaign ads will dominate broadcasts in the weeks leading up to Election Day, said University of Nebraska at Omaha political science professor Randall Adkins.
While Omaha likely would see far fewer campaign ads this year if Iowa wasn't a contested state, neither party has forgotten that Obama won the 2nd district in 2008. Nebraska is one of two states that can split its electoral votes; most states follow a winner-take-all approach.
Republicans are still stinging from that loss, which followed an extensive get-out-the-vote effort by the Obama campaign that cost more than $1 million. It was the first time a presidential candidate has succeeded in shaving off one of the state's five electoral votes.
The district was redrawn after the 2010 census to increase the number of Republican voters, lessening the chance that Obama could repeat his success. But Republicans are not taking any chances, with GOP Gov. Dave Heineman and the Republican-dominated congressional delegation stressing the need at Nebraska GOP county conventions being held this month to get Republicans to the polls in November.
"My friends, we cannot let that happen again," U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns has told convention-goers via a video recording.
The ads targeting western Iowa are seen as a "twofer" by those on both sides in Omaha.
"I would not use the word 'safe' yet for Republicans," Adkins said of the 2nd district. "I would never underestimate Barack Obama as a campaigner."
Wilner said those wanting to advertise on Omaha stations this fall are already reserving time.
"In a close election, as we learned 12 years ago, every electoral vote counts," Wilner said. "You're sitting on one in the Omaha market."
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