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Obama Backers Battle For Dominance On Denver Airwaves

Watching the first 20 minutes of Saturday Night Live's season premiere in Denver, I counted at least four ads by the Obama campaign and liberal groups backing the president. Just one ad countering their message was aired in the same span by the Romney campaign.

Anecdotal, yes, but my armchair analysis is backed up in new findings released this week by the investigative reporting group I-News Network, which — with the University of Colorado's CU News Corps — tracked buys for political ads scheduled to run between July 30 and Nov. 6 on Denver's four main network TV stations.

The Denver market is the No. 3 media market for presidential ads this year, behind Las Vegas and Cleveland, according to the Wesleyan Media Project in Connecticut. And the I-News and CU team's analysis shows that President Obama and his allies are outspending Republican Mitt Romney and conservative groups allied with him on the Denver airwaves by a significant edge, at least for now.

Specifically, Obama for America is spending about $4.6 million compared with Romney for President's $1.3 million in this period so far. Republican-leaning outside groups have chipped in another $2.5 million or so. But Obama has also gotten extra help from the liberal group Priorities USA Action, which is spending nearly $2 million on ads.

"That number will go up," says CU-Boulder journalism instructor Sandra Fish, who is helping oversee the ad-tracking project.

Fish also notes that her team's analysis doesn't include the key swing state's growing Colorado Springs TV market, nor does it encompass Denver's two Hispanic TV stations. Both are exempt from online disclosure to the Federal Communications Commission until 2014.

Still, the I-News and CU team found a total of 21 groups spent almost $20 million on 18,956 ads in the Denver market.

Now, $20 million and counting is arguably not that big of a surprise to any Coloradan who has a television and has turned it on lately, especially during prime time. But it does potentially signal a shift, and a trend worth keeping close tabs on in this battleground state.

Most recent polls have put Obama and Romney in a statistical dead heat in Colorado. But Fish notes that the Obama campaign and liberal groups are committed to ad buys in Colorado through Election Day, while the Romney campaign is buying by the week in Denver.

"Certainly when Obama comes here, he makes it very clear that he wants to win this state and that if he wins Colorado, he'll win the election," Fish says. "Maybe that's why he's so committed here."

For those of us looking for a reprieve from this blitz in ads — or, more pragmatically, maybe just a little comedic relief — rest assured SNL is ready to deliver again this election season.

As it got later and my eyes got a little more bleary last Saturday, my armchair ad tracking got a little muddied when, sandwiched between the real ads, came this fake one spoofing the president's recent attacks on Romney.

Kirk Siegler reports for KUNC in Colorado.

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