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Advertising space tight as First District race intensifies

The campaign for Mississippi’s First Congressional District seat has taken on a hostile tone, and most of the hostility has played out on television airwaves.

The evening news is the favorite spot for candidates trying to reach folks who like to stay informed and who are most likely to vote in whatever election is being advertised.

And when you combine all the new political advertising with the existing spots, space gets tight.

“We can’t run some of the promotions because there’s no space,” said Larry Harris, general sales manager of WTVA, the NBC affiliate in Tupelo, a station that has run countless commercials for the First District race between Democrat Travis Childers and Republican Greg Davis.

In the television business, space is money. So a full allotment of advertisers vying for any available space — especially in hotspots like the WTVA evening news — can be a money-making machine.

“Revenue-wise it’s a good thing,” Harris said. “But it’s very difficult to find spots for your local advertisers and treat everybody fairly. Plus, voters have a right to find out about the candidate who might be representing them.”

The First District campaign has allowed for an extended run of political advertising. The field of candidates, after several primaries and runoffs, has finally been whittled to two, and there are still two more trips to the polls for voters — the special general election May 13, and then the real general election in November that will decide who permanently replaces Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, who held the seat until he was appointed to fill the unexpired term of retired Sen. Trent Lott. Like the race between Childers and Davis, the race between Wicker and former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove will fill lots of air time when that contest heats up in the late summer.

“It’s certainly been an unusual year for us,” Harris said.

Metro Jackson stations had a taste of the same political whirlwind starting in late fall, when David Landrum, a former candidate for the Third District seat being vacated by Chip Pickering, R-Flora, started running campaign ads before football season was over for an election that wasn’t until March.

Again, the issue of balancing everyday advertisers with those who show up maybe every other year was a challenge.

“It comes down to being able to see it coming,” said Bob Romine, general manager of WJTV, Jackson’s CBS affiliate. “You have to do that so you can manage your inventory. You really have to be cautious about that. At the same time, with Landrum getting on very early, that was kind of a boon for us. But if your business plan is right, you can get through the political season without doing much damage to your regular advertisers. And you always try to make sure you take care of your core business – which is equal access and equal opportunity.”

Dan Modisett, general manager of Jackson’s WLBT, Jackson’s NBC affiliate, has a saying he repeats every time elections start up.

“When the candidate qualifies for office, that starts their going-out-of-business sale,” Modisett said. “You have to be careful to comply with federal election laws (which forbid media from denying ad space to candidates for federal office) and taking care of your local advertisers. It’s a balancing act.”

Modisett said first quarter numbers, which are usually among the lowest of the year, for his station were higher than usual this year because of all the political advertising.

“With the presidential election, the Senate election plus the judicial elections, we’ll probably see a bump in the late third quarter, too,” Modisett said.

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .


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