By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 2008; Page A03
Despite perceptions that Sen. John McCain has spent more time on the attack, Sen. Barack Obama aired more negative advertising last week than did the Arizona Republican, says a study released yesterday.
Seventy-seven percent of the Illinois Democrat's commercials were negative during the week after the Republican National Convention, compared with 56 percent of the spots run by McCain.
Ken Goldstein, who directed the study by the Wisconsin Advertising Project, based at the University of Wisconsin, says the pattern was a reversal from earlier months, in which McCain's advertising was consistently more negative than Obama's.
"It suggests that the Sarah Palin pick and the newfound aggressiveness by McCain got into Obama's head a little bit," Goldstein said. "He was under great pressure to show some spine, be aggressive, fire back."
The study found Obama limiting his television buys to 17 states and McCain airing spots in 15. For all the talk of an expanded electoral map, both campaigns are concentrating resources in traditional battlegrounds, with slightly more than half the total spent on advertising going to Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
"Shockingly, this race is going to come down to swing voters in the same swing states that decided the last two elections," Goldstein said.
The study says the campaigns poured $15 million into the ad wars last week -- they were virtually even in total spending -- but the figures revealed an important distinction. Obama, who has rejected public financing in favor of private fundraising, paid for 97 percent of his spots. McCain, who is limited to an $84 million federal subsidy, financed 43 percent of his commercials, with the rest airing in conjunction with the Republican National Committee. These "hybrid" spots allow McCain to retain control while the party foots much of the bill.
Obama spent more on ads in Florida, $1.3 million, but that was nearly matched by McCain's $1 million. The most McCain spent was in traditionally Democratic Pennsylvania -- $1.6 million to Obama's $948.000.
Obama was on the air in Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, North Dakota and Montana, all states won by President Bush in the last two elections.
Interest-group advertising was marginal at $187,000, although that is expected to ramp up in the coming weeks. Three pro-Obama groups aired commercials -- the Service Employees International Union, Defenders of Wildlife and Planned Parenthood -- while one, Vets for Freedom, ran spots on McCain's behalf.
The politics of change