A clamor for air time in the Silver State

Chris Roman, GM of four Spanish-language TV stations in Nevada, on the messaging frenzy

NEVADA — In the Silver State, Chris Roman’s audience is being wooed and pursued.

Roman is the general manager of four Spanish-language TV stations and three Mexican (music) radio stations here, all owned by Entravision Communications Corporation. Entravision’s holdings in Nevada—where Hispanics make up 27.1 percent of the population (it’s 16.7 percent nationally)—include the Univision network affiliates in both Las Vegas (KINC-TV) and Reno (KREN-TV). Roman’s viewers and listeners, in other words, are among those being targeted, as a Romney aide boasted to The New York Times last week, by “the most aggressive Hispanic outreach of any Republican presidential campaign.” Meanwhile, the Obama campaign continues its efforts to, as a Politico headline had it in July, “wrap up [the] Latino vote.” And then there are the super PACs and nonprofits pitching in (with, largely, TV ads) on both sides.

Candidates and their supporting outside spending groups are, according to Roman, clamoring for air time on his stations, both through the purchase of political ads (“paid media”) and, in the case of candidates, “earned” media coverage in newscasts. And they’ve been courting Hispanic audiences this cycle “early, and often,” as Ad Age put it in July. Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS was on the air in Las Vegas last fall, Roman told Ad Age, and the Democratic National Committee began running ads soon thereafter.

“The thing that’s remarkable in this cycle is both sides are talking,” said Roman in a recent interview. “That’s what’s really stunning. That’s the most astonishing thing.”

“[In past years] Spanish-language media…were almost the exclusive domain or province of Democratic or progressive interests,” Roman continued. “But in this cycle, we have seen more activity by Republican and conservative candidates and independent expenditures.”

Roman shared with me what he described as “share of voice” statistics that his ad sales staff uses during the final weeks of the campaign. The stats—culled from data the stations put in their public inspection files and presented in pie chart form—show that between January and September 20, 2012, on Roman’s two Spanish-language TV stations in Las Vegas, some 63 percent of ad messaging has been “blue,” including 49 percent from the Obama campaign and 14 percent from the Service Employees International Union. Thirty-seven percent of ad messaging has been “red,” including 13 percent from both the Republican National Committee and the outside spending group Crossroads (it’s not clear whether this is the super PAC, the 501(c)(4) offshoot or both), 5 percent from the conservative nonprofit American Principles in Action, 4 percent from the Romney campaign, and 2 percent from the nonprofit Libre Initiative.

In Nevada’s neck-and-neck US Senate race, unlike in previous election cycles, the incumbent (Republican Sen. Dean Heller) has bought more ads this year than the challenger (Democrat Rep. Shelley Berkley), according to Roman’s numbers. Specifically, 55 percent of ads have been from the Heller camp, 45 percent from the Team Berkley. (This chart offers no details on ad buyers and neither chart offers any details on number of ads purchased or dollars spent).

Roman noted that Berkley, a longtime member of Congress with a significant Latino constituency, has, over the years, been a familiar face in the evening newscast that airs on the Univision affiliates in both Vegas and Reno. In 2012, Heller—who prior to being appointed to the Senate served a much more Anglo Congressional district in northern Nevada—is also making himself available for interviews.

“Dean Heller has come to our [Las Vegas] television station—just this calendar year—no less than five times,” said Roman.

Roman’s news director and anchorwoman, Adriana Arevalo, has been to the White House twice this year for one-on-one interviews orchestrated by the Obama camp. During her first visit— as I noted in a post here earlier this year—the White House hound, Bo, took center stage.

“The story went viral and kind of overtook the actual [Obama] interview,” Roman acknowledged.

“[Arevalo] has not had a one-on-one with Romney. He’s been less approachable by local stations,” Roman said, quickly adding that Arevalo has had a sit-down interview with US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), speaking as a Romney surrogate.

The bulk of the political messaging on his stations—both in “paid” and “earned” media, according to Roman—has been focused on the economy, a particularly contentious topic in Nevada, with its highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate and also-high foreclosure and personal bankruptcy rates. Many of the ads consist simply of translations into Spanish of what’s aired in the English-language media. That said, the hot topic of immigration isn’t being ignored.

“Several of the [ad] messages do refer to immigration. That’s something that doesn’t come up in English-language advertising,” he observed. “And it’s on both sides.”

Roman pointed to a commercial sponsored by Nevada Hispanics, an arm of the conservative dark-money group American Principles in Action. (In June, I wrote about the launch of this group, its opaque funding, and its initial messages and the holes therein.)

“The theme of [the ad] was, ‘With friends like this, who needs enemies?’” Roman explained. “It called out Obama on his executive order [on immigration] as only a temporary solution that doesn’t in any way guarantee legal status.”

Roman predicted that by November 6, political advertisers of all shades will have spent “well over $3 million” on his stations. That’s more than double the spending in 2008.

It’s an open question whether or how the messaging deluge will influence Nevadans’ Election Day decisions. Meantime, Roman is looking to have a more direct influence, championing the Univision network’s “Ya es hora”—in English, “Now’s the time”—campaign encouraging Hispanics to become US citizens, register to vote, and get engaged in the political process.

“Every group of people has something to contribute,” he told me, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’ve seen how we’ve contributed to the greater good of this republic. I think if we are part of the conversation, if we put our two cents in to determine the road that our country takes, I think that we’ll be better for it.”

Related stories:

“Dark money targets Hispanics in Silver State”

“On Florida’s ‘anything but monolithic’ Hispanic voters”

“The Ad Wars: How do we cover them?”

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Jay Jones is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who has covered political campaigns for various media outlets in the U.S. and for the BBC in the U.K.