If you’ve turned on a TV this fall, you would likely agree that Rock Hill is one of the worst places in America to live during campaign season.
The website Media Post listed Rock Hill as one of the top 10 worst places based on the amount of out-of-state political advertising its citizens are subjected to.
Rock Hill – and the rest of York, Chester and Lancaster counties – is part of the Charlotte media market, meaning TV viewers have heard a lot about North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race between Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis, a heavily-advertised race that could tip the balance of power in Congress this November, and in which South Carolina voters have absolutely no say.
Media Post estimates that of the $11.5 million spent on 17,000 political ads in the Charlotte market, 12 percent has been wasted reaching – and likely annoying – voters on the other side of the state line.
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It’s one of the hazards of a cross-state metropolitan area where local candidates and voters face the threat of being subsumed by their larger neighbor. As much as North Carolina politicians may regret wasting that 12 percent, it’s even more difficult for local and state politicians on the South Carolina side to decide whether it’s worth trying to reach voters through Charlotte broadcasts that mostly reach Tar Heel viewers.
“Every two years, it’s a fine balance for campaigns how much they want to put into the Charlotte media market,” said Rick Whisonant, political science instructor at York Technical College. “For the 5th Congressional District, the question is if it’s even worth the bang for your buck to go into the market.”
In that case, South Carolina’s politicians are more like the candidates in New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate race. To reach residents of Manchester, the Granite State’s largest city, candidates have bought up ad time in nearby Boston, a Massachusetts city five times larger. That led the top 10 list to estimate a staggering 82 percent of the $4 million spent in the Boston-Manchester market was spent spreading the candidate’s message to non-voters.
Glen McCall, former chairman of the York County GOP, said the reach of Charlotte stations in the 5th Congressional District was important in the hotly contested 2010 race between longtime Democratic Congressman John Spratt and his ultimately successful Republican challenger Mick Mulvaney.
But the calculation is different for candidates running for statewide office in South Carolina.
“You don’t see large ads for statewide office in Charlotte, and wisely so,” McCall said. “Not when you can get twice as much for your dollar somewhere else (in the state).”
Being overshadowed by Charlotte may even affect how candidates in the area campaign. Whisonant said the political culture in the 5th District has traditionally put more importance into personal appearances by candidates campaigning face-to-face, rather than relying on an ad blitz. Spratt and Mulvaney poured money into TV ads in the final weeks of the 2010 race, but Whisonant characterized that as a last-ditch effort in an unusually tight election.
“They’ll do it especially if their internal polls show they only need to move the needle by a fraction, but that’s all it’s going to do,” he said. “When I go out and talk to people, it’s a minimum impact.”
Other South Carolina races are affected as well. If candidates face a de facto media blackout in a North Carolina-centric market, they have to adopt the same face-to-face campaign style in order to chase votes south of Charlotte.
“That’s how they overcome that,” McCall said. “They have to spend more time here than in other areas.”
Ironically for Rock Hill-area voters, a side effect of living in one of the worst campaign ad markets in America may be an increased number of politicians campaigning here in person. It’s just that the candidates on TV and on your street much of the time are different.