The conventional wisdom holds that the 2012 campaign will set records for TV spending. But that’s not how things have gone so far, says Wells Fargo Securities analyst Marci Rivicker — who follows political ads closer than just about anybody on Wall Street. Campaigns have spent $275.5M on TV ads through April 15; nearly 66% went directly to broadcast stations while the rest went to national TV and cable. But spending and fundraising through February was 20% below the average in presidential year campaigns from 2000 through 2008. The large number of GOP presidential debates “dampened the need for advertising,” Ryvicker says, adding that there wasn’t “a clear path to the Republican nomination.” But spending in March was 12% over the average for the month in the previous cycles. That leaves Ryvicker unsure of whether 2012 political TV spending will come in ahead or behind her forecast of $2.7B. Modeled on the last presidential election year in 2008, it would fall short at $2.3B. But based on 2010, the total would hit $2.9B. It’s probably best to err on the high side: The analyst notes that in the second half of this year we could see a flood of ads from ostensibly independent groups unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Also, Ryvicker says that political ad spending lately has increased every cycle, even when there wasn’t a presidential race. Big city stations owned by the major networks have raked in the most dollars from political ads so far. But the spots have been most meaningful to companies including Gannett, Sinclair, and Gray Television; political spending can account for as much as 8% of their total ad sales.