NEW YORK — The election is still a few months away, but TV stations are already reaping the benefits of the pursuit of the presidency.

Thanks to a tight race and more money flooding into politics, the Television Bureau of Advertising is forecasting that stations will post a record of $550 million in 2000, up significantly from the $367 million of 1996.

Following a trend set in ’96, presidential campaign media dollars will go almost entirely to spot ads rather than network buys. Compared with the $550 million that local stations will rake in, network TV is expected to post $50 million, according to the TVB.

Clinton legacy

“President Clinton’s people were the first ones to really put a little-known candidate from a little-known state into the spotlight by placing the money where he had the best opportunity to shift votes,” said Harold Simpson, VP of research and development at the TVB.

This year, candidates will likely direct ad dollars toward toss-up states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Florida and New Jersey.

In 1996, the two parties spent 90%-95% of their TV budgets on spot ads. Simpson predicts the same will hold true this year. Television stations posted a total of $97.8 million in political advertising during the first five months of 2000, up 103% over the same period in 1996.

Nets feel disenfranchised

Meanwhile, ad sales execs at the Big Three broadcast nets said they have been largely ignored by the political campaigns so far.

But Simpson predicts that business will be boosted as the election nears. Also, the Reform and Green parties will likely turn to national TV as a more efficient way to get their messages across. The Green Party has already approached CBS about a possible network buy, but has not booked any time.

The two major campaigns will each receive about $68 million in federal matching funds once the conventions have wrapped. About half of the money is expected to go toward television ads. In addition, “soft money” raised by special interest groups could go toward further television advertising.