One might think with hotly contested presidential primary battles in both parties, and with the Arkansas primary election just about two weeks away on March 1, Arkansas TV viewers would be awash in political ads for the various candidates.
Not so far.
Arkansas viewers have not seen any such ads on local broadcast stations in Little Rock, the state’s largest TV market. Arkansas voters will take part in what is now called the SEC Primary, where voters here will cast ballots the same day as voters in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia.
Not only have Arkansas viewers not seen any ads, so far, none are even scheduled. A check of the databases for TV stations required by the Federal Communications Commission, showed not a single ad has been purchased by any presidential candidate committee in advance of the Arkansas primary so far — nor have any political action committee or “independent expenditure” ads been purchased. (The check was completed Friday, Feb. 12.)
Observers say they don’t expect to see much advertising interest in Arkansas until after the South Carolina primary, which is the first Southern primary. Republicans will vote Feb. 20 in the Palmetto State, and Democrats on Feb. 27.
“Inquiries are just starting to pick up,” Mark Rose, general manager of KATV in Little Rock, told AMP last Friday. He also confirmed there have been no presidential primary advertising buys yet.
“If we see it, I imagine it will start the day after the South Carolina primaries,” he continued.
Rose said there have been market rumors of the Clinton campaign getting ready to advertise in Little Rock, but no confirmation. He said most of the inquiries have been in the form of “undisclosed requests,” which is code for information gathering on behalf of a PAC, or “independent expenditure” committees.
Rose said he’s not surprised by the lack of political advertising so far.
“We budgeted very conservatively,” he said. Rose says the market did not see much in the way of presidential primary advertising in 2012, when a long list of GOP hopefuls vied for the chance to face incumbent President Barack Obama. Many of those candidates had dropped out by the time Arkansas voters went to the polls in May.
On the Democratic side, Vince Insalaco, chairman of the Democratic Party of Arkansas, said he’s not surprised by the lack of advertising.
“Hillary Clinton has the hometown advantage here in Arkansas,” he said.
Insalaco theorizes that advantage could be worth as much as 10-15 points alone in the Arkansas Democratic Primary.
“If I were running the Sanders campaign, I’d use my resources in states other than Arkansas,” he added.
On the Republican side, one campaign strategist said, “It’s all about South Carolina right now.”
Terry Benham, a partner with Arkansas based Impact Management Group, is not personally working on a presidential campaign this season, but has in the past. He said for some GOP candidates “it’s possible that if it doesn’t go well in South Carolina, there is no Arkansas.”
Another political strategist who did not want to be identified by name echoed that sentiment, saying the lack of a strong showing in the South Carolina Primary could cause a candidate to drop out. He explained a low showing would reflect in both future polling and the ability to raise money. In addition, the voter support from any candidate who drops out will likely go to one of the remaining hopefuls.
Arkansas is not alone when it comes to a lack of presidential primary advertising. A check of the FCC database for some of the television stations in other SEC Primary states showed the same. Leading stations in Dallas, Atlanta and Nashville also show no advertising buys for any presidential candidates as of Friday.
The only political advertising found in those markets was for “Right to Rise,” a PAC which describes itself as being supportive of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. So far, those ads have not been purchased in Little Rock.
Regardless, any primary advertising in Arkansas will be short term, and likely not until after the voters in South Carolina have had their say.