Barack Obama's 30-minute campaign commercial last night was not merely a tactical decision to barrage millions of Americans in pursuit of a few thousand undecided voters who can dictate the outcome of the presidential campaign. Aired on seven network and cable stations, the ad served as a national get-out-the-vote organizing tool for Obama operatives. It offered the chance to see Obama looking presidential. And once again it proved how Obama's deep pool of campaign cash has enabled him to rewrite the rules of presidential campaigning.
As the campaign entered its final days, the Democrat's commercials were pelting important electoral states, trying to smother efforts by Republican John McCain to diminish Obama's lead in polls of voters nationally and in most key states.
According to an accounting by the Neilsen television research company, the Illinois senator was running more than twice as many ads across the country as McCain.
The closing days of national campaigns are usually an exercise in frustrating choices, with decisions made over which dollars can be spared for a host of competing needs. Because of its wealth, Obama's campaign has faced that dilemma less often.
On Tuesday, for example, McCain ran 1,543 ads across the nation. Obama ran 3,160, according to the Neilsen survey, and as with McCain, most were aired in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"At some point, the tonnage of Obama commercials makes it difficult for McCain to get his message out," said Ken Goldstein, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist.
The half-hour Obama ad was a classic closing commercial, with a positive tone that belied the hand-to-hand combat in key states. He did not mention the names of his opponents, McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Instead, he presented himself as one who understands the fears of middle-class voters. Prominently mentioned were key electoral states - Missouri, Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado and Florida. The film evoked Americana, opening with amber waves of grain.
Threaded through Obama's policy prescriptions were references to his family background: his World War II veteran grandfather, Rosie-the-Riveter grandmother and a Midwestern-bred mother who would wake him at 4:30 a.m. for school lessons.
McCain mocked the ad, calling it a reminder that Obama broke a promise to accept federal financing of his campaign. "When you're watching this gauzy, feel-good commercial, just remember that it was paid for with broken promises," McCain said.
The 30-minute national ad was not an original concept. A similar commercial for Barry Goldwater in 1964 helped propel Ronald Reagan into the California governor's office two years later. George Bush, Michael S. Dukakis and Ross Perot used extended ads.
While the program closed with a plea for votes, it served other purposes. Obama partisans held watch parties; in Los Angeles more than 100 people gathered to make thousands of phone calls to voters in Nevada, Missouri, New Mexico and Montana.
One of the side benefits to Obama's ad was that it overshadowed McCain yesterday, analysts said.
"It's blocking out McCain," Goldstein said. "It's like the end of the football game, and Obama is running out the clock."