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The Next Site For Democrats' Ad War: North Carolina

Feb 29, 2020
Originally published on February 29, 2020 8:21 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

North Carolina is a key state in next week's Super Tuesday primaries. Charlotte is, of course, that state's largest city. And its metro area borders South Carolina - that's where voters go to the polls today. So residents in the area have been deluged with political ads. NPR's Sarah McCammon is spending time this year in Charlotte. It's part of our series called Where Voters Are. And she looks at how all those ads may be shaping voters' views of the Democratic primary race.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: OK. I just got in my car. And I am in a little college town just outside of Charlotte. I'm going to turn on the radio and see what happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We need to think different. Tom Steyer is a progressive businessman who...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Mike knows investing in our teachers is investing in our children.

TOM STEYER: I'm Tom Steyer, running for president. And I approve this message.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: I'm Mike Bloomberg. And I approve this message.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Paid for by Mike Bloomberg 2020.

MCCAMMON: Campaign ads are all over radio and TV and social media platforms, like Facebook. It got to be a bit much for Shawn Abbas.

SHAWN ABBAS: I have blocked quite a few things just because, as you would suspect, I mean, there was so much that was being shared from all candidates.

MCCAMMON: Abbas is a Democrat in his early 40s working in Charlotte's banking industry. Liz Albertorio is 30 and works at a museum downtown. She's an independent planning to vote in the Democratic primary. And she says she's also resorted to blocking political ads on social media. But they're inescapable on her drive to work, especially one name in particular.

LIZ ALBERTORIO: Oh, well, I just came in from 77. And there was this big ad - Mike Bloomberg.

MCCAMMON: The billionaire former New York City mayor and latecomer to the race has skipped the early primaries and is making a big play for Super Tuesday, especially in Charlotte, where his campaign opened its first field office in the nation. Steve Passwaiter is a vice president with Kantar/CMAG, a media analysis firm.

STEVE PASSWAITER: In many ways, of course, in lot of these states, Bloomberg has had the airwaves all to himself. And, of course, he's buying at such a volume, you can't miss him. You can try. But you can't miss him.

MCCAMMON: Bloomberg has spent close to $15 million running ads in North Carolina - 10 times more than Senator Bernie Sanders, the next biggest spender, according to the firm Advertising Analytics. But does it all make a difference to Democratic primary voters still making up their minds?

ABBAS: Not at all. I don't think so.

MCCAMMON: That's Shawn Abbas again. He says he forms opinions mostly by talking to friends - not political ads. Abbas says he's narrowed down his list to three choices - none of whom are Steyer or Bloomberg, the candidates whose ads he's heard the most.

Steve Hall is 44 and works in Charlotte in digital marketing for a fantasy sports company. As a voter, Hall finds Bloomberg's ad blitz impressive, though he prefers a former vice president Joe Biden or former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

STEVE HALL: I appreciate the Bloomberg ads because I feel like he's doing all the Democrats a service in the fact that he's going after Trump in these ads. But I feel like he's kind of muddling up the message with all the moderates in the same pool of voters.

MCCAMMON: The onslaught of Democratic primary ads might have another effect, says Susan Roberts, a political scientist at Davidson College outside Charlotte.

SUSAN ROBERTS: Well, I think they help remind people that there is a primary.

MCCAMMON: Roberts says she'll be watching to see if the ads bring out more casual voters who don't tend to participate in primaries.

ROBERTS: And it doesn't take a political scientist to say - so I think getting people out, maybe not persuading them but to mobilize mostly and to persuade a little.

MCCAMMON: The big question will be whose voters are mobilized by all those ads. Sarah Mccammon, NPR News, Charlotte.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPADOSIO'S "THREES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.