Obama takes star turn in state political ads

President and his policies are center stage in political advertising even on down-ballot races

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 Updated:

A screenshot from an ad entitled 'Lobbyist Dan Branch' paid for by the Ken Paxton Campaign for Texas Attorney General.

Screenshot/Paxton Campaign

Editor’s note: The Center for Public Integrity is tracking political advertising in races for the U.S. Senate and state-level offices. Use these two, interactive features — with new data every Thursday — to see who is calling the shots and where the money is being spent.

Though the Illinois state senate is long behind Barack Obama, the president has been a hot topic in state-level elections this year. 

The president or his signature health care law have been mentioned in more than 1 out of every 10 television ads that have aired about elections for state-level political office so far in the run-up to Nov. 4, according to the latest Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from media tracking service Kantar Media/CMAG.

Comparatively, more than one-third of political ads in U.S. Senate races have mentioned the president, according to the Center’s analysis.

Combined, more than 300,000 ads have aired mentioning Obama or the health care law.

While it’s not unusual for the president to be invoked in federal races, the focus on Obama at the state level is comparatively novel, according to Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. He attributes it, in part, to a growing partisan split among voters.

“In a lot of these campaigns, the strategies are nationalized because parties think there are fewer voters that are willing to split their tickets,” Kondik said.

Related: Big money is being spent in U.S. Senate elections, where three political ads run every five minutes in Iowa and North Carolina. 

For state-level races ranging from governor to state board of education, ads have run more than 100,000 times that invoked the country’s chief executive or his policies, mostly in a negative light.

An ad sponsored by Jeremy Oden, a Republican candidate seeking re-election to Alabama’s Public Service Commission, promises that Oden will “fight Obama and stop the EPA overreach.”

Another, sponsored by Texas Attorney General candidate Ken Paxton attacked his Republican primary opponent Dan Branch for lobbying on behalf of unions that “backed Obama.”

Overall, Republican candidates, and groups supporting Republicans, were responsible for sponsoring 90 percent of all ads that mentioned Obama or the health care law commonly dubbed Obamacare. None of those ads has mentioned the president positively.

Democrats have invoked Obama far less frequently but, when doing so, they’ve been much more positive, with nine out of every 10 ads supportive of the president. In one ad, Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, touted his work helping to fix the rollout of the president’s health care law and the law’s beneficial effects.

While state-level races might seem far removed from the Oval Office, Kondik notes that ads invoking Obama’s healthcare law are actually relevant to state races as many aspects of the law — including decisions about expanding Medicaid and creating health care exchanges — have been made at the state level.

“It may be kind of beside the point to argue whether a gubernatorial candidate is close to Obama,” he said. ‘’It’s not beside the point to argue whether a candidate supports the Affordable Care Act.”

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