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Health Care Ads a Windfall for TV Stations

WASHINGTON - The congressional debate over health care has produced an unexpected recession windfall: a television advertising boom in the home states of pivotal lawmakers.

The multimillion-dollar effort to win votes could determine the fate of legislation that the Senate begins debating next week. Evan Tracey with the non-partisan Campaign Media Analysis Group has counted more than 70 organizations, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to individual physicians, that are targeting undecided lawmakers with TV commercials. The spending is unprecedented for a non-campaign season and especially welcome in the economic downturn, station executives and ad experts say.

"For broadcasters in these states, this is an early Christmas present," says Tracey. Jim Tellus, general manager of WTHR in Indianapolis, calls it "kind of nice windfall in an otherwise very tough year."

In Arkansas, groups on both sides of the health care debate have been buying up so many TV spots that "it becomes a challenge to squeeze everyone in," says Larry Audas, general manager of KTHV, which is owned by Gannett, also the parent company of USA TODAY. Lisa Howfield, general manager of KVBC in Las Vegas, says this month she had to turn some regular advertisers away to make room for the health care spots.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who cast a deciding vote last week to advance the health care bill in the Senate despite misgivings, complained about the ads. Since the beginning of the year, "there has been more than $3.3 million worth of media ads purchased in Arkansas by groups from outside our state," said Lincoln, a centrist Democrat up for re-election next year.

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