On the map of national politics, where Utah has always been barely a smudge, this year the state has been elevated to the equivalent of a dotted gray line. The proof: Democratic presidential candidates can be seen on local TV asking for your vote.
And that's a first, maybe since the dawn of television.
"I've been doing this for 23 years, and I've never seen a dime of presidential money coming into Utah" for campaign advertising, said Mark Wiest, vice president for sales at KSL-TV. Political experts say they can't remember any presidential candidates, Democratic or Republican, ever buying TV time here.
According to a new Deseret Morning New/KSL-TV poll, more than three-quarters of Democrats surveyed said they had seen an ad for either Clinton or Obama in the past week, leading up to Super Tuesday. Money well spent, then but apparently not as efficient as the Romney campaign's strategy on ad buys in Utah.
More than a third of Republican Utah voters polled, and 43 percent of Democrats, said they had seen a TV ad for Mitt Romney in the past week although in fact there are no Romney ads running, at least locally. That's a big bang for his no bucks. John McCain also hasn't purchased any TV time, but more than a quarter of Democrats and Republicans say they've seen one of his ads in the past week.
It's possible all those people get their TV via satellite from somewhere else. Or maybe they're thinking of the campaign ads they've seen discussed on the TV news: stories about some controversial ad attacking this candidate or that. Or maybe they've seen an ad served up again on YouTube. "The world has changed," as BYU political science professor David Magleby notes, and canned campaign pleas can come in many forms.
With only five electoral votes, no presidential primary prior to 2000, and the state's election preferences pretty obvious and overwhelmingly uniform, Utah hasn't been important to candidates in past years. But this year Utah is part of the Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses, and the Democratic vote here is still seen as "up in the air," said Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. Support for Clinton and Obama has seesawed, although the latest Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll conducted between January 28 and 31 gives Obama a sizable edge.
In what is turning out to be a close contest, "a win is a win, and delegates count," says Jowers, even though Utah provides only 29 Democratic delegates out of 2,025.
According to public reports on file at KUTV, the Clinton campaign has written checks to the station for $58,499 for spots to run through Tuesday, and Obama has spent $57,174. According to an ad-buy document from the Obama campaign, he spent $109,526 on his Utah TV broadcast ads from Tuesday through today, and divided it this way: 38 percent to KUTV, 24 percent to KSL-TV, 19 to KTVX, 19 to Fox 13.
On cable, Obama and Clinton "have both spent significant sums of money" on Comcast's 39 networks shown locally, said public relations director Ray Child of Comcast in Utah.
Even before dropping out of the race, the Edwards campaign had bought no ad time in Utah (although 11 percent of Democratic Utah voters polled said they saw one of his ads last week. No Republican candidates have bought any time either. Apparently Romney feels confident, and McCain figures "why bother?"
In Arizona it's apparently the same story, only reversed. Neither candidate has bought time at Phoenix's ABC affiliate, KNXV, according to national sales manager Mat Thornton.
Although Utah hasn't received a lot of money or attention from any of the candidates, it's still faring better than Idaho, which holds a Democratic caucus on Super Tuesday. The ABC affiliate in Boise, KIVI, has had no ad buys from either Obama or Clinton. But it did get a few inquiries about ad rates.
"I've been doing this 30-plus years and never ever had an inquiry, so that was unique," said KIVI general sales manager Ken Ritchie. "Like Utah, we've always been completely ignored by presidential candidates."And when Super Tuesday turns into just a regular old Wednesday? KSL-TV's Wiest isn't very hopeful: "I don't think we'll see a dime after this."