Trump, Bloomberg ignite spending boom with Super Bowl ads
President Trump and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will go head-to-head with national advertisements during the Super Bowl, firing the starting pistol on what is expected to be a brutal and wildly expensive 2020 election battle that will dominate the cultural landscape for the next 11 months.
The Bloomberg campaign announced Tuesday it had reserved a 60-second spot, which could amount to $10 million worth of airtime during the Super Bowl.
The Trump campaign responded shortly after, announcing that it would also invest $10 million promoting the president’s reelection campaign during the nation’s most-watched sporting event, which will take place in Miami on Feb. 2, a day before the Iowa caucuses.
The dueling ads pit two billionaire New Yorkers against one another and lay the groundwork for what is certain to be the most expensive election cycle ever.
Democrats, many of whom are skeptical that Bloomberg has a real shot at the nomination, are nonetheless thrilled that he’s matching Trump’s early advertising efforts at a time when much of their money and focus is directed toward the nominating contest.
“The advantage of the incumbency has so much to do with money and talking to swing-state voters while the other side is fighting it out in states that won’t matter as much in the general election,” said Rufus Gifford, the national finance director for former President Obama’s reelection campaign.
“In 2012, we were able to raise and spend in all the states where Obama’s approval rating wasn’t as good and the Republicans could never catch up. That’s why Bloomberg’s money matters so much. It makes it so that Trump doesn’t have that space all to himself.”
The Super Bowl ads show how the nominees from both parties will be looking to reach new voters and tap into popular culture while spending unprecedented amounts of money to influence public opinion ahead of the November election.
Due to the cost and early occurrence on the calendar, it is exceedingly rare for presidential campaigns to buy national spots during the Super Bowl.
But Trump rarely misses an opportunity to involve himself in a popular cultural event, and the campaign sees an opportunity to pump up his favorability rating while reaching a broad audience of potential new voters.
“A lot of people in this country don’t vote, and the campaign has made it an emphasis to encourage people to vote who have never voted before,” said one Republican with close ties to the campaign. “Normal Americans watch the Super Bowl. It’s a way to get out the vote or do voter outreach to those who may have not been part of the process before.”
Bloomberg, meanwhile, is spending enormous sums on advertising in parallel efforts to win the Democratic nomination and soften Trump before the general election.
The former New York City mayor’s decision to skip the first four states to vote — a strategy that has never worked out for anyone before — has made him a huge underdog in the nominating fight.
But it has also freed him up to spend big in the general election battleground states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, putting the Democrats on the airwaves at a time when they’re otherwise mostly spending in the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.
One of Bloomberg’s digital ads that has been running in Super Tuesday states features voters from the Midwest warning Democrats that only Trump is campaigning in their states and that the party badly needs to shift its focus from the early-voting states to the states that will decide the general election.
Bloomberg has spent more than $13 million on advertising so far in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to data from Advertising Analytics.
“We need to wake up,” says one man in the ad. “In Michigan, the only one campaigning here is Donald Trump … all this effort and all this money, and none of it goes to the one election that really matters?”
Another man says: “As a Pennsylvanian, I understand there’s a caucus in Iowa, but what about here?”
“Trump is running unopposed in every state that will actually decide the general election,” a woman warns.
The Bloomberg ads have been neatly split between promoting Bloomberg’s own presidential ambitions and seeking to tear down Trump on key issues such as health care while raising questions about his temperament.
The campaign currently has only one ad up on the national airwaves. It opens with a clip of Trump saying he will “let ObamaCare implode” before pivoting to Bloomberg’s accomplishments on health care.
A television ad from December promoted Bloomberg’s economic record in New York, touting him as someone who “gets things done” while Trump “spends his time tweeting.”
“The ad spending is self-serving to an extent but it’s also getting a counter-narrative out there that Trump would otherwise have all to himself,” said Gifford. “We need that. Trump has had the full attention of the swing states because our candidates are fighting it out in Iowa and New Hampshire. Bloomberg’s money has been a nice counter.”
Bloomberg has already spent about $147 million on TV ads since launching his presidential bid in late November, exceeding the advertising budgets of all of his rivals combined. He has plowed another $20 million into digital ads on Facebook and Google.
The source close to the Trump campaign says they have “zero focus” on Bloomberg as a candidate, believing that the eventual nominee is likely to be either former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D).
And Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee will have a massive head start on the eventual Democratic nominee after combining to raise $154 million in the fourth quarter of 2019 and ending the year with $195 million in the bank.
“Super Bowl ad is an indicator that the @realDonaldTrump campaign is ramping up as 2020 begins,” tweeted campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh. “Also big plans to spend on outreach to women, blacks, Latinos & religious voters. The President’s record and unprecedented fundraising make this possible.”
Democrats are confident their eventual nominee will catch, and perhaps surpass, Trump’s general election fundraising but are growing worried over the GOP’s national party fundraising advantage.
There are hopes that Bloomberg could use his billions to help mitigate that advantage in the general election, whether he’s the nominee or not.
“The Democratic campaigns will be fine, the base is fired up and most of our Q4 numbers were really impressive,” Gifford said. “I’m more concerned about the party funding. We’ll have to do all we can for the DNC, the state parties and the outside groups.”