Screenshots from a variety of ads from this political season.

(Photo: Screenshot)

When it comes to political ads this year, Denver is No. 1 in the nation – and by a wide margin.

More than 78,000 political ads aired in the Denver market from January 2013 through last Thursday, compared with about 52,000 in the next closest market, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Competitive U.S. Senate and governor’s races, as well as big money ballot issues are among the reasons Denver’s market is so hot.

And it will be no surprise to Coloradans that the majority of those Senate and gubernatorial ads are negative.

That’s according to a report released Wednesday by the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ad spending around the nation. The project uses data from Kantar Media/CMAG, a private company that monitors ads actually aired in TV markets.

Like CPR News’ analysis, which is based on TV ad contracts filed with the Federal Communications Commission, the Wesleyan data doesn’t include cable or satellite TV advertising. CPR’s analysis, which covers January of this year through now, includes contracts for ads that have yet to air, while Wesleyan examined ads that actually ran through Oct. 23. 

Top markets

While Denver is tops, Colorado Springs ranks eighth in the nation with more than 41,000 ads.

Nationally, political ad spending exceeds $1 billion for 2.2 million ad airings, the Wesleyan analysis shows. The number of ads is slightly smaller than at the same time in the 2010 election cycle.

In the Senate race, Colorado ranks behind North Carolina and Iowa in the total number of ads aired for the two weeks that ended last Friday.

Here’s a look at the number of ads and the estimated spending on those ads in the top markets:

Going negative

Researchers working on the Wesleyan project categorize whether ads are positive or negative, and negative ads tend to dominate. That’s no different this year than in previous years, Erika Franklin Fowler, co-director of the project, said in a news release.

“Negativity this cycle has been comparable to past levels,” Fowler said. “Gubernatorial ads are more negative this year than they have been previously, but House ads are less negative. Senate ads are slightly more negative than 2010 but less negative than 2012. Any way you count them, however, attack ads continue to dominate the airwaves.”

That’s certainly true in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race between Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, where the project found nearly 60 percent of ads were negative, about 20 percent were positive and another 20 percent contrasted the two candidates.

Here’s a look at the top Senate races and the tone of their ads:

In the race between Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican challenger Bob Beauprez nearly 59 percent of the ads were negative and almost 41 percent were positive.

The issues

The analysis also examined the issues various Senate candidates and their supporters focused on in TV ads between Sept. 1 and Oct. 23.

In Colorado, Democrats are focusing on women’s issues, while Republicans are focusing on energy issues, Wesleyan researchers concluded. Colorado is the only state among the top 16 Senate races where these two issues take center stage.

In other Senate races, Republicans have focused on Obamacare or the budget deficit, while Democrats in several contests focused on jobs and employment.