[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/09/24/art.hc.cnn.jpg caption="The largest city in Maine is ground zero in the television advertising war over health care reform that nationally is about to reach $100 million."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - The largest city in Maine is ground zero in the television advertising war over health care reform that nationally is about to reach $100 million.
Organizations seeking to influence the health care debate have spent $1.5 million this year to run more than 4,650 separate commercials on TV stations in the coastal city of Portland, according to a new analysis conducted for CNN by TNSMI-Campaign Media Analysis Group (TNSMI-CMAG).
While Maine's population is just over 1.3 million, this small state casts a big shadow in the debate over health care reform. The state's two centrist Republican senators - Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins - are top targets for both pro- and anti- health care reform groups. Snowe is a member of a small group of Senate Finance Committee members known as the "Gang of Six," who met regularly to try and craft a bipartisan health care bill. The bipartisan pressure is nothing new for Maine's senators: Snowe and Collins are regularly lobbied by Democrats to break GOP ranks to vote with them on other issues.
"Until Sen. Collins and Sen. Snowe say unequivocally they are going to vote or not going to vote for the legislation, the state of Maine will continue to see this heavy volume of health care advertising," said Evan Tracey, president of TNSMI-CMAG and CNN's consultant on political TV advertising.
In Maine, Health Care for American Now - the umbrella group for pro-Obama health care organizations such as unions and MoveOn.org - has aired 850 commercials, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has aired more than 600 TV ads opposing Obama's health care reform plan. In all, 15 different groups have run health care ads on Portland TV stations, said Tracey.
Since January, more than $99 million has been spent on health care TV ads that have run nationally and in local markets - the most money ever in this short period of time.
"The scale on health care is something we have never seen in dollars spent and the number of groups running commercials," Tracey said. "And it is only going to continue to grow."
Organizations that support President Obama's vision for health care reform have spent more than $39 million nationally, while opponents have dedicated $28 million on TV ads to try and stop his efforts. The remaining $32 million has been spent by groups that support health care reform, but have not taken a position against a particular plan, and organizations that don't support or oppose health care reform but have a cause or concern related to the issue.
Groups trying to influence the health care reform debate have also set their sights on Denver, Colorado and Little Rock, Arkansas, which ranked second and third on the list of cities that have faced a deluge of health care spots this cycle, the CMAG analysis showed. More than 4,300 health care ads have aired in Denver, while 4,250 have run in Little Rock. A handful of centrist Democrats - an ideological wing of the Democratic Party that has expressed some skepticism about Obama's plan - represent Colorado and Arkansas in Congress.
Follow Mark Preston on Twitter @prestoncnn