It’s now or never for New Jersey Gov. Chris ChristieChris ChristieWhat New Jersey's gubernatorial contest tells us about the political landscape Christie: 2020 Joe Biden 'is now officially dead and buried' Christie, Pompeo named co-chairs of GOP redistricting group MORE. That appears to be the view of his wealthy super-PAC backers, who are spending fast and hard to keep Christie in contention for the Republican presidential nomination.
The pro-Christie super-PAC, America Leads, has already spent at least $2.1 million in a bid to gin up enthusiasm for the governor, who is lagging in the early polls of Republican primary voters.
Christie’s big-money donors are not alone. The trend of early and heavy super-PAC spending applies to other GOP candidates whose supporters are trying to get them on the debate stage and stop them from being weeded out of the race early.
Donors supporting Ohio Gov. John Kasich and the lower-polling Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal, are watching their super-PACs spend more aggressively than groups supporting more established candidates like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Disclosure reports of independent expenditures filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) show that more super-PAC money has been spent on Christie in the earliest stage of the Republican primary race than on any other candidate.
Christie’s major backers include Connecticut hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, who, with his wife, Alexandra, gave $2 million; Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone, who gave $250,000; and wrestling executive Linda McMahon, who gave the same amount.
Most of the early Christie PAC spending went to cable TV advertising bookings made between July 21 and 31, much of it on Fox News, host of the first GOP debate on Aug. 6. Christie narrowly squeezed into the top 10 in national polls to make it onto the main stage.
The FEC figures only account for expenditures that have become public and do not take into consideration significant ad buys that have not yet been reported by super-PACs.
Asked why the Christie super-PAC was spending heavily so early, America Leads spokesman Tucker Martin said, “It's crowded out there, but his authenticity breaks through. Our job is to make sure voters see that authenticity and we wanted to start early.”
Christie’s donors are likely to continue spending more of their $11 million super-PAC kitty over the coming weeks, given national polling data that suggests Christie risks dropping out of the top 10 and ceding his place on the main debate stage to businesswoman Carly Fiorina, who has surged following her strong performance on the undercard of the first GOP debate.
The next GOP debate will be shown by CNN, on Sept. 16.
While not yet official, supporters of Kasich are believed to have spent more than $3 million in advertising in New Hampshire, where his campaign is concentrating its efforts, according to analysis by ad tracking firm SMG Delta, an NBC partner. Christie is competing with Kasich and Bush for GOP establishment voters in that early-voting state. Kasich, like Christie, just made the top 10 in the Fox debate and continues to be near the bottom of the group for the upcoming CNN debate.
The next highest reported super-PAC spender after the groups backing Christie and Kasich is the political action committee supporting Perry. The pro-Perry Opportunity and Freedom PAC has spent at least $1.6 million so far, largely on TV buys, though this early spending failed to get the former Texas governor onto the main stage for the first debate.
Austin Barbour, a senior adviser for the super-PAC, said the group would continue spending aggressively, throwing all its chips down in Iowa. Barbour said the super PAC - which cannot coordinate with Perry's official campaign - was prepared to spend "whatever we think it's going to take to properly support the governor."
Other early independent spending reported by the FEC includes $1.3 million for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and $111,000 for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Super-PACs backing more established candidates can afford to spend less of their money on attention-grabbing TV buys and can instead invest early in grassroots organizing.
Much of the $1.7 million spent by super-PACs supporting Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul has been on voter data, field canvassers and outreach. Less than $500,000 of the pro-Paul money went on TV advertising. The super-PAC supporting Walker has spent $135,000 so far, largely for online advertising.
Bush — whose super-PAC Right to Rise USA has already raised more than $100 million, easily the largest haul in the Republican field — has reported spending only $338,000 so far on media placements. But Right to Rise operatives reportedly plan a $15 million-plus advertising buy in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
The ad campaign, which would be easily the largest so far by a super-PAC in either party, is expected to feature positive spots highlighting Bush's conservative record as Florida governor. Right to Rise operatives said the campaign would run from September to the end of the year.
One name missing from FEC outside spending reports is billionaire GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who has pledged to self-fund his campaign and has criticized his competitors for being beholden to lobbyists and donors.
Trump is polling around 22 percent of GOP primary voters, and is trailed by some 11 points by his next closest rivals, Bush and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, who are polling around 11 percent and 10 percent respecively, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average of national polls.
Also yet to be reported is outside spending for groups backing Fiorina and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.).