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Politics | With a tightening race for the White House, battleground states face a continuing stream of campaign ads

While the term “blockbuster” usually belongs to the box office-busting movies of summer, it is safe to say that politicians direct the only record-setting blockbusters occurring on the airwaves this fall.

With a little more than two weeks before Election Day, the grand total spent on presidential campaign advertising has already surpassed the amount shelled out for commercials during the entire 2008 presidential race. This year’s advertising total of nearly $725 million so far is roughly equal to the combined box office receipts from this year’s hit summer films The Dark Knight Rises and the Amazing Spider-Man. The campaigns and their surrogates forked over $57 million for television commercials alone for the week ending Oct. 5.

But, as the two campaigns and their allies accelerate the barrage of commercial messages in the coming weeks, most of the nation may not even notice.

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President Barack Obama’s contest against Republican challenger Mitt Romney is a fight over the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House. And the front lines of that war are located in just a handful of battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin. While these nine states have shared the political spotlight all year, some pollsters lately are starting to include the states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Mexico. Whoever wins the majority of the 151 electoral votes in these 12 states will be well on his way to securing the presidency.

If you are from one of those states, then prepare to be annoyed by the final commercial onslaught. That is if you are not already fed up with the flood of commercials, mailings, phone calls, and door knocks you have endured already.

If you live in the nation’s other 38 states, sit back and enjoy the last presidential debate Monday night, because that may be the final time you see and hear from both candidates until one gives a concession speech and the other enjoys a victory celebration on Nov. 6.

President Obama won all 12 of those battleground states in 2008 by an average of 7.5 points. Like four years ago, the crown jewels for both candidates are Florida, Virginia, and Ohio. To prove that fact you only have to follow the money: Out of the $700 million-plus spent on commercials so far, a whopping 56 percent has gone to media outlets in these three states alone. In one recent week the two parties spent a combined $11.4 million trying to reach Ohio voters, $12.6 million in Florida, and $10.5 million in Virginia. So it’s a good time to be a TV ad salesman if you live in Orlando, Cincinnati, or Richmond.

These states mean everything for Gov. Romney. They each went Republican in the two presidential elections won by George W. Bush. In fact, no Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio. Polls in September showed Obama widening a lead in Ohio and Florida, but then came the first debate, and now the polls have tightened, and the battle will intensify in the Sunshine State and the Buckeye State.

With Floridians suffering under an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent, Republicans are focusing their message on jobs. In Ohio, where the unemployment rate of 7.2 percent is below the national average, Romney is trying to connect with working class voters to convince them that the Ohio economy could be much better. The candidates are facing two Virginias: the mostly rural southern parts, where joblessness is high, and Northern Virginia, where cities close to Washington, D.C., enjoy a robust economy fueled by contracts with the federal government.

Democrats have an edge in registered voters in many of the battleground states, but that advantage is smaller than the one enjoyed by the party in 2008. This year Democrats hold a 450,000 edge in voter registrations in Florida, down from the roughly 610,000-voter advantage four years ago. Decreases in the registered voter advantage for Democrats also have occurred in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Iowa. With Democrats holding commanding leads in states with solid Democratic support and high Electoral College votes, such as California (55), New York (29), and Illinois (20), the battleground states are of particular importance to Romney in the race to 270.

The former Massachusetts governor is hoping that he can recapture North Carolina and Virginia for the Republican Party—states that long belonged to the GOP but went for Obama in 2008. Indiana also is traditionally a red state that voted for Obama four years ago, but it is not considered a battleground state this time around in the presidential race, with the Romney-Ryan ticket set to pick up the Hoosier State’s 11 electoral votes.

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