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Political Advertising|By Elizabeth Wilner, February 5, 2013

More than 800 different advertisers hit the airwaves to influence the makeup of the 113th Congress, according to an analysis by ad-tracking firm Kantar Media CMAG. The Senate and House races that drew the highest numbers of advertisers—28 and 15, respectively—were both open-seat contests featuring multiple candidates competing for their respective nominations, party advertising on behalf of the nominees, and heavy targeting by outside groups.

Senate

One hundred ninety-five different sponsors advertised on broadcast television in US Senate races last cycle. In other words, in addition to sponsors as prolific as Crossroads GPS and Majority PAC, which advertised in most competitive Senate races, 193 others also advertised.

The average number of TV advertisers in a Senate race was 11. That’s how many hit the air in the Texas open-seat race to replace retiring incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), with most of the advertising action there coming in the primaries and Republican run-off.

The highest number of advertisers for any Senate contest, 28, participated in the race for the seat held by, and then lost in the Republican primary by longtime Indiana incumbent Richard Lugar. Ohio ranked second with 27 advertisers and Wisconsin, which featured a crowded Republican primary, ranked third with 25. On the other hand, the nationally watched Massachusetts Senate race featured just two advertisers, Sen. Scott Brown (R) and challenger Elizabeth Warren (D), after their campaigns struck a deal that effectively kept others off the air.

Races for safe Senate seats in Delaware, Mississippi, Tennessee and Vermont saw only a single advertiser apiece—the incumbent. Only Wyoming’s Senate race, in which incumbent John Barrasso (R) coasted to re-election, did not see any broadcast TV advertising.

House

Six hundred fifteen different sponsors advertised on broadcast TV in US House races last year. Of the 239 races that saw such advertising, the average number of advertisers was four—but competitive races attracted far more. The contest to replace Democratic Senate nominee and Rep. Chris Murphy in Connecticut’s 5th district drew the highest number, 15. That race was won by Democrat Elizabeth Esty. Blue Dog Democrat John Barrow’s ultimately successful run for re-election in Georgia drew the second highest number of TV advertisers at 14, followed by three House races in which 13 advertisers hit the air, respectively.

Of the 22 House races that saw advertising by at least 10 different sponsors, 21 races were rated as competitive by The Cook Political Report. The remaining race, in Illinois’ 8th district, featured 10 advertisers despite not being rated as competitive by Cook because it was considered so far gone for the incumbent, Rep. Joe Walsh (R).

CMAG’s analysis was conducted as part of a new service, CMAG’s Eye on New Members, providing all the TV ads aired by and about new members of Congress. A sample created for freshman Rep. Andy Barr (R), who defeated Democratic incumbent Ben Chandler in Kentucky’s 6th district, shows 50 different TV ads aired by 11 different sponsors ranging from the candidates themselves to the House campaign committees to groups such as Americans for Tax Reform, House Majority PAC, and Patriot Majority USA.

CMAG expects the 2014 midterm elections to bring even higher numbers of advertisers in competitive races.

Elizabeth Wilner, VP Kantar Media Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), is Contributing Editor at the Cook Political Report

CMAG’s Harley Ellenberger contributed to this post.