RICHMOND, Va. — People who live in battleground states tend to have a number and a coping strategy.
Virginian Catherine Caughey’s number is four: Her family recently got four political phone calls in the space of five minutes.
Ohioan Charles Montague’s coping mechanism is his TV remote. He pushes the mute button whenever a campaign ad comes on.
The phone rings during a favorite TV show. Traffic snarls when a candidate comes to town. A campaign volunteer turns up on the doorstep during dinner. Bills get buried in a stack of campaign fliers. TV ads spew out mostly negative vibes.
The effects are cumulative.
“It’s just too much,” said Carmen Medina, of Chester, Va.
Medina, it should be noted, is an enthusiastic supporter of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. She squealed with joy outside the United Latino Market in Richmond when she learned that Romney had just appeared at a rally across the street.
But she’s starting to block phone numbers to Make. The. Calls. Stop.
Even Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, has had enough. “I don’t want to get myself upset so I am not watching television for the moment,” she told the women on ABC’s “The View” on Thursday.
“Trust me, the audience members that are in swing states are sick of them,” she said of political ads.
Ditto the president.
“If you’re sick of hearing me approve this message, believe me, so am I,” Barack Obama said during the Democratic National Convention.
The parties speak with pride of their massive ground operations — the door knockers, the phone banks, the campaign signs and more. They trumpet the higher level of activity this year than in 2008.
With the campaign now focused on just nine states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — the parties are able to target their resources narrowly.
Republicans say they’ve made three times more phone calls and 23 times more door knocks in Ohio than they had by this time in 2008, for example, and nearly six times more phones calls and 11 times more door knocks in Virginia. Democrats don’t give out that level of detail, but describe ambitious outreach activities from their 60-plus field offices in Virginia and 125 in Ohio.
The campaigns and independent groups supporting them are expected to pour about $1.1 billion into TV ads this year, the vast majority of it in the most competitive states.
The political mailers sometimes come four at a time for Jean Gianfagna of Westlake, Ohio, who said her husband and two grown kids all get their own copies of the same mailer.
But does all of this activity reach a point of diminishing returns? Is there a risk of overkill?
Not to David Betras, chairman of the Democratic Party in Ohio’s Mahoning County. He considers himself a field general in the battle to re-elect Obama, and enthusiastically details the party’s efforts on his turf.
“Is there a saturation point? I haven’t heard that,” he said. “I think just the opposite. I think people, at least in my neck of the woods, are kind of excited that they’re playing such an important role.”
But he does say, “Some people you call and of course they’re burned out with it, and you thank them very much and you move on.”
Clearly, more exposure doesn’t always translate into more support.
“The more I see Romney, the less I like,” said Kay Martin, who lives in the Denver suburb of Arvada.
And if not generating a backlash, some of that political activity is surely just wasted energy.
Gwynnen Chervenic in Alexandria has taught her kids to yell “lies” any time a political ad comes on.
“I’m trying to make sure they develop a healthy skepticism about the election PR process,” she explained. “Makes me laugh every time and should help ease the pain until Election Day.”
But the campaigns just won’t — or can’t — stop reaching out.
“They can’t not try to win your vote, even at the risk of alienating your vote,” said Stanley Renshon. “You don’t want to regret not doing everything you can do.”