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TV ads favored Biden 2-1 in past month

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Former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign and his outside backers have aired almost twice as many television spots in the past month as have President Trump and his supporters.

A new report from the Wesleyan Media Project, a group of political scientists who monitor television spending, found Biden backers spent $59 million to air 106,000 television spots since Aug. 10. Over the same period, Trump backers spent $36 million to air about 57,000 commercials. 

The air time disadvantage Trump faces, coming just as voters begin to tune into the general election, is virtually unprecedented in the history of modern politics. 

Other challengers have been drowned by big spending in August and September — Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) found himself far behind after the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad blitz in 2004, for example — but no incumbent has faced such an explosive amount of spending.

“Early in the general election period, Trump was massively out-airing Biden,” said Travis Ridout, a co-director of the project and a political scientist at Washington State University. “With the fall campaign ramping up, the imbalance has heavily tipped to Biden.” 

Former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale spent heavily early in the cycle on the airwaves.

When new Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien took over, the first thing he did was pull ads off the air and reassess how much and where the campaign was spending.

Stepien cut back on ad spending and has redirected the campaign’s television reservations to focus on states that will begin early voting soon.

Biden’s campaign, which saw a surge in donations after picking Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, has spent $45.8 million since Aug. 10, more than any other group. Trump’s campaign spent about a third of that, or $13.8 million.  

Biden’s advantage on the airwaves could grow even greater in the coming weeks. The Biden campaign has reserved some $280 million in air time for the home stretch.

And the Biden campaign raised $150 million more than the Trump campaign in August. The Trump campaign once had a cash-on-hand advantage that reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s vanished now, as the campaigns were effectively tied in cash on hand at the end of July.

Priorities USA, the largest Democratic super PAC supporting Biden’s campaign, gloated in a memo to supporters. 

“Rather than being flush with cash to flood the airwaves with ads, his campaign has instead gone dark in key swing states and set off alarm bells among Republicans about the state of their standard-bearer’s finances,” the memo said.

But the Trump campaign says that rather than plowing its money into television advertisements, it is making the strategic decision to invest in its ground game.

“Both campaigns are raising massive amounts of money, but have very different priorities about how to spend it,” Stepien said. “In addition to advertising, President Trump’s campaign has invested heavily in a muscular field operation and ground game that will turn out our voters, while the Biden campaign is waging almost exclusively an air war. We like our strategy better.”

Outside the campaigns, two Republican groups, America First Action and Club for Growth Action, are the largest spenders, according to the report. The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans who back Biden, has spent more than any other Democratic group. But outside groups are likely to spend a lot more in the eight weeks remaining before voters head to the polls.

Arizona has become the epicenter of the advertising onslaught. More individual spots, about 10,000, have run in the Phoenix media market than any other. Tucson ranks as the third-most inundated market, just behind Tampa, Fla.

The Trump campaign has spent more on digital and internet ads through Google and Facebook than the Biden campaign, $45 million to $34 million. But even that gap is closing, after Trump dominated the digital ad space earlier this year.

The presidential campaigns are spending more on air time now than their predecessor campaigns in 2012 and 2016, according to Wesleyan’s figures. Television budgets for House and Senate candidates are substantially higher than they were four and eight years ago as well.

In the battle for the Senate, voters in several key states already cannot escape the amount of advertisements being aired. Candidates in Georgia, where two Senate seats are on the ballot, and North Carolina have already spent more than $20 million on airtime. Candidates and groups in Montana, Iowa, Arizona, Maine and Michigan have already spent more than $10 million.

So far, political groups have spent more than $1.5 billion on television spots. Two thirds of that money, $993 million, has been spent by presidential campaigns — a figure bulked up by profligate Democratic primary candidates Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg.

Tags Brad Parscale Donald Trump Joe Biden John Kerry Michael Bloomberg Tom Steyer
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