Cable news is giving a controversial new ad attacking Romney an unintentional bump in visibility. Priorities USA, the super PAC supporting Barack Obama, released “Understands” on Tuesday in just five battleground states: Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio. But the spot, which controversially links the death of the wife of a laid off steelworker to Romney’s actions as CEO of Bain Capital, quickly went national when cable news shows replayed the ad 60 times in two days.
Priorities USA spent slightly more than a million dollars on TV ads this month. “Understands” is its fifth ad in a campaign focusing on Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. It features former GST Steel worker Joe Soptic, who describes how his wife died after they lost their health insurance.
Romney’s campaign called the ad “dishonest” and “contemptible.” Mark Halperin of Time Magazine lamented, “It seems that for some Democrats, given the attacks the President has taken, nothing is out of bounds in going after Romney at this point.”
Sensing controversy, cable news outlets replayed the ad, by ThinkProgress’ estimate, 60 times in two days. Fox News and Fox Business provided the bulk of the coverage, mentioning and playing clips of the ad 26 times since Tuesday. CNN and MSNBC played it 15 and 12 times respectively.
Priorities USA senior strategist Bill Burton told the Huffington Post that “Understands” has been “wildly successful” in focusing the conversation on Romney’s impact on the middle class. And the super PAC is getting far more bang for its buck thanks to the free media coverage.
To put the Priorities USA ad buy in perspective, conservative outside groups spent $144 million on swing state TV ads as of the third week in July. Democratic groups, led by Priorities USA, have spent $20 million.
The success of “Understands” can be read as a lesson to future political campaigns: launch hyperbolic attacks on your opponent, and the media will reward you with millions of dollars in free air time.
This piece has been updated to more accurately reflect Priority USA’s ad expenditures.
The New York Times is reporting the Priorities USA ad has never actually aired on broadcast TV.