When Free Airtime Just Isn't Enough ...

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

For a presidential candidate, the whole point of a televised debate is the chance to get your message out to a wide audience and, if you’re lucky, bring your opponents down a peg—all without spending a precious dime. But as this year’s horde of GOP hopefuls learned last month, free airtime is hard to come by when you’re sharing the stage with nine other people. In that 90-minute debate on Fox News, broken up by commercials, each candidate received just a few minutes on camera for themselves.

This time around, Rand Paul’s solution is to just buy more time.

Politico reports that Paul, who is sagging in the polls, plans to run a TV ad in Iowa and New Hampshire during next week’s debate on CNN. It might not be a bad idea. For one, with Carly Fiorina making the cut, there will likely be 11 candidates on the debate stage, meaning each will get even less time to speak. Because Paul has slipped down the ranks in the past month, he might be even further ignored—unless he manages to get into a fight with a rival like he did with Chris Christie in the first debate. And at least Paul knows his ad will reach Republican voters, as ratings are expected to be sky high.

The biggest risk might be that all the other candidates copy Paul’s strategy. Then the commercial breaks will be just as jam-packed with canned talking points as the main event. As least if he’s drowned out on the debate stage, he won’t be paying for it.