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Kansas City Airwaves Crowded With Two House Primaries

Just 13 days prior to primaries in Kansas’ 3rd district and Missouri’s 5th district, candidates on each side of the state line are struggling to break through the clutter in the Kansas City media market that covers both seats.

In addition to the advertising for the two House campaigns, there are also commercials being run in Kansas City by Missouri Gov. Bob Holden (D) and his primary challenger, state Auditor Claire McCaskill, as well as President Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

“You turn on the television now and all you see are political ads,” said Todd Abrajano, campaign manager for former Overland Park City Councilman Kris Kobach (R), who is running in Kansas’ 3rd. “After a while it all gets lost in the shuffle.”

Anita Dunn, media consultant for former Council on Foreign Relations fellow Jamie Metzl (D), who is running in the Missouri House contest, added that “it is rather uniquely cluttered for a summertime primary.”

The two races — a Republican primary for the right to face Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore (D) in the fall and a Democratic primary to replace retiring Missouri Rep. Karen McCarthy (D) — represent the first time in recent memory that the Kansas City area has played host to two hotly contested Congressional races on the same primary day.

All told, the Kansas City media market reaches significant portions of four Congressional districts, including Rep. Jim Ryun’s (R-Kan.) 2nd district and Rep. Sam Graves’ (R-Mo.) 6th district.

On the Missouri side, Metzl is the underdog in his race against former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver for the 5th district seat. The winner is all but guaranteed to carry the general election given the Democratic performance of the district.

Metzl has run the more aggressive campaign of the two but has struggled to overcome Cleaver’s huge name identification advantage built up over his eight years as mayor.

Cleaver spokesman Phil Scaglia said that while “in the shared Kansas City media market it’s always a challenge to break through. … [O]ur message and Mayor Cleaver’s proven record has helped bolster our paid advertising.”

Metzl, on the other hand, had to spend significant time making sure that Missouri voters knew whom he was and where he was running, a task complicated by the crowded television airwaves and proximity to the 3rd district race across the river.

Maurice Henderson, a spokesman for the Metzl campaign, said the challenge of running in a split media market affects not just television but also the candidate’s stump strategy.

Because there is so much cross-pollination between the two states — with people living on one side of the line and working on the other — many times Metzl meets people on the campaign trail who cannot even vote for him, Henderson said.

Dunn added that to overcome any confusion about just which seat Metzl is running for, the campaign has “made sure to talk about the state somewhere in all of our communication,” emphasizing that this race is “about Missouri families and what’s best for Missouri.”

Buoyed by several negative newspaper stories regarding Cleaver’s business interests in a car wash, Metzl has sought to make the campaign a referendum on the former mayor’s character. He is currently running an ad bashing Cleaver for his failure to pay some back taxes as well as not providing workers’ compensation for car wash employees. Cleaver has a response ad decrying the “negative” campaign being run by Metzl.

Across the border in Kansas, Kobach is de-emphasizing broadcast television in his uphill primary fight against 2002 nominee Adam Taff. State Rep. Patricia Barbieri-Lightner (R) is also in the race but is not thought to have a chance to win.

While Kobach is currently rotating three ads — two positive and one comparative — on broadcast television, Abrajano insisted that targeted cable buys and direct mail are a more effective medium to connect with the limited universe of Republican primary voters.

“We are in a market that splits a state line,” said Abrajano. “In terms of cost effectiveness of media, we are losing a lot to Missouri.”

Another potential reason for Kobach’s slimmed-down broadcast television efforts is his current fundraising situation.

Kobach raised just $61,000 from April 1 to June 30, ending that period with $170,000 in the bank.

Kansas City is by far the most expensive media market in the the Jayhawk State at $119 for a single rating point. That means that a 1,000-point buy, which translates to roughly 10 viewings per voter in a given week, would cost $119,000.

Taff, who took 47 percent of the vote against Moore in 2002, is on more solid financial footing with $388,000 on hand after raising $103,000 over the past three months.

Taff is on the air with a commercial pointing out the “discrepancies” in Kobach’s record on issues such as taxes, abortion and immigration, according to campaign manager Bob Zender.

Zender argued that the shared media markets work to his candidate’s benefit because he is more familiar to the district’s voters.

“He is a known quantity,” said Zender. “People know where he stands.”