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Candidate backers turn attention to airwaves

Some struggling Republican presidential candidates are investing heavily in New Hampshire and Iowa advertising. That's probably a bad idea.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks about recent Republican party gains and the road ahead for his party during a press conference at the Republican governors' conference in Boca Raton, Fla. on Nov. 19, 2014. (J Pat Carter/AP)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich talks about recent Republican party gains and the road ahead for his party during a press conference at the Republican governors' conference in Boca Raton, Fla. on Nov. 19, 2014.
Plenty of professional campaign operatives will tell you that a national campaign doesn't really begin in earnest until candidates start running television ads. That phase, by and large, hasn't arrived just yet.
But in a matter of days, that's going to change. Politico had an interesting report today, noting that the "2016 ad wars have begun."

Allies of at least four long-shot Republican presidential hopefuls are planning to blitz Iowa and New Hampshire with paid advertisements in the coming week with the hope of cutting through the clutter of a 17-candidate field. The ads are being paid for by super PACs with one thing in common: The candidates they support are in danger of failing to qualify for the first presidential debate, scheduled for Aug. 6.

In this case, the Republican candidates who'll soon be on television screens in Iowa and New Hampshire are, in no particular order, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and businesswoman Carly Fiorina. Super PACs backing Jindal and Kasich are the ones making the sizable investments, with Jindal boosters spending over $700,000 in Iowa ads, while Kasich backers are going up in New Hampshire with an investment of over $500,000.
And under normal circumstances, this would make a lot of sense. Plenty of voters in the early primary and caucus states have not yet settled on a preferred candidate, and TV ad rates are cheaper now than they will be in the fall. For candidates struggling to break through, now seems like a perfectly good time to make an early investment and try to gain a foothold.
The trouble is, these aren't necessarily normal circumstances.
Something Rachel said on the show on Tuesday made a lot of sense to me:

"]W]e are one month out from the first debate which the Republican Party and the Fox News Channel say will only include ten Republican candidates based on who places highest in national polling. The Republican primary debates will exclude five, or six or seven, maybe more serious candidates purely on the basis of their national poll numbers. [...] "So, forget how you're doing in Iowa, or New Hampshire or South Carolina. Forget how you're doing with endorsements, forget how you're doing with money, forget how you're doing with anything. National poll numbers, that's it."

This is no small detail. If Jindal, for example, suddenly goes from 2% to 4% in Iowa, and Kasich goes from 2% to 4% in New Hampshire, their campaigns will likely be pleased with the progress, but it won't bring them any closer to the debate stage.
And candidates who aren't able to participate in debates are unlikely to be seen by voters as serious contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.
In other words, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on local TV time, as compared to national advertising, is inherently risky.
Politico's piece noted that the respective campaigns are aware of this, but they're counting on some kind of ripple effect -- they'll make gains in one early nominating state, which might generate some attention, which would help them raise their national visibility, which might give them a slight bump in national polling, which could secure a slot on the debate stage.
But with Fox News and the RNC nationalizing the process, and deliberately weakening the influence of the early nominating states, it's hard not to wonder if these campaigns could invest their limited resources more effectively.
Donald Trump, for example, isn't paying a whole lot of attention to Iowa and New Hampshire, but thanks to a wave of new support, we can expect to see him and his antics on the debate stage early next month -- no matter what the polls say in the early nominating states, where the other candidates have been spending most of their time.