On its face, North Carolina would seem the swing state President Obama is least likely to win on Nov. 6. But while they won't concede the state is lost, Obama's campaign is pursuing a curious strategy -- while they have ramped up spending on television advertisements across the battleground map, their spending levels in North Carolina have remained stagnant.
They may not be playing to win North Carolina, but Obama's team is staying competitive enough to force Republican nominee Mitt Romney and the outside groups that back him to pour millions into the state -- money that might otherwise be used to prop up Romney's efforts in other states where he has more work to do.
With just four weeks to go before Election Day, President Obama's team is spending $830,000 on television advertising running in the Tar Heel State, according to data provided by sources watching the ad market. That's slightly less than the $1 million per week the campaign was spending on North Carolina advertising per week for the four weeks between July 23 and Aug. 20.
By comparison, Obama's campaign spent $1.67 million on Florida advertising for the week ending Aug. 20, and more than $5.5 million this week. In Ohio and Virginia, the campaign's spending this week is more than double the amounts they spent on a weekly basis in August.
Republicans, meanwhile, have slowly ramped up their spending in North Carolina. This week alone, Romney's campaign is spending $1.4 million, while the two wings of the American Crossroads organization are dumping $1.75 million into the state. All told, Republicans are outspending Obama by a nearly five-to-one margin this week. Over the last four weeks, Romney and his Republican allies have spent about $12.2 million on North Carolina advertising, almost four times the amount Obama has spent.
It is money Romney and his allies would desperately like to spend elsewhere.
But North Carolina is an essential state for Romney's hopes of winning the White House. Polls show Romney with a slight advantage, though neither candidate can claim a lead anywhere approaching the margin of error. While Obama's paths to victory are myriad enough that North Carolina's electoral votes are a luxury he could afford to lose, there is no practical path to the necessary electoral votes for Romney that doesn't include the Tar Heel State.
"I remember back in the summer when folks were puzzled why Romney was spending any money on ads in [North Carolina], and the thought was that he was spending money in the state early to put the state away and take it out of play," said Jonathan Kappler, the research director for the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation and a prominent observer of the state's politics. "That clearly didn't happen, as both campaigns and conservative outside groups are still spending here three weeks before the election."
So far, the Obama campaign has refused to give up on any battleground states. Romney allies have tried to use ad blitzes to put Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in play; of those three states, Republicans are only seriously contesting Wisconsin.
All told, Romney, Obama, and their allies have spent more than $825 million on television advertising this year, including $60 million during the week of Oct. 9 to 15 alone. And Republicans maintain their consistent advantage -- Romney and groups that support the challenger dished out $37 million, compared with $23 million being spent on Obama's behalf.
This week also marks the first time that Romney, whose campaign spent $18.9 million this week, has outspent Obama. Obama's campaign spent $18.3 million this week.
As Election Day looms, both sides are emptying their bank accounts with massive advertising buys. Both campaigns are spending more than $5 million each in pursuit of Florida's electoral votes. Republican forces are outspending Obama and his outside groups by more than $2 million in Ohio and more than $3 million in Virginia, the data show.
Obama also spent at least $1 million in Colorado and Iowa, and nearly seven figures in Nevada and New Hampshire. Romney spent more than $1 million in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
Republican outside groups continue to dominate their Democratic counterparts. The three largest GOP groups -- American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS, and Restore Our Future -- spent a combined $14 million this week. Priorities USA Action and Planned Parenthood, by contrast, spent just under $5 million on Obama's behalf.
And new Republican-backing groups continue to get involved: This week, the National Rifle Association began running $1.4 million in television advertisements in Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.