New Hampshire Flooded By $100 Million in Political Ads

The presidential candidates, and the super-PACs supporting them, are spending big in 2016.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Money is gushing into New Hampshire as presidential candidates see the first in the nation primary as a make-or-break moment for their campaigns.  

About $100 million has already been poured into broadcast and cable television ads courting voters for the Feb. 9 vote, according to estimates from Kantar Media's CMAG and an analysis by Ken Goldstein, a Bloomberg Politics analyst and University of San Francisco professor. In comparison, about $2 million had been spent in New Hampshire by this point in the 2012 race that ultimately came down to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

The spending in New Hampshire shows how American politics is being transformed by U.S. Supreme Court decisions in recent years that cleared the path for unbridled spending in elections. The sheer number of candidates and the lack of an incumbent in the race has also intensified the flow of money.

So far, the vast majority of New Hampshire ad spending—about 80 percent as of Feb. 1—has come from the Republican candidates and outside groups supporting them, according to Goldstein. Even Donald Trump, who rode a wave of free publicity through the early months of his campaign, began TV advertising in early January, according to CMAG. 

CMAG estimates $82 million was spent through Feb. 1 on broadcast ads in four TV markets that cover New Hampshire. On top of that, Goldstein estimates another $20 million has been spent on local cable channels, which aren't tracked by CMAG. Of the broadcast ads, Republicans and their allied super-PACs account for $64 million. 

"New Hampshire has become the O.K. Corral for the establishment candidates," said Anthony Corrado, a government professor at Colby College. "Bush, Kasich, Christie are going to devote whatever resources they can to the state, because if they don't do well in New Hampshire, they no longer have a viable path to the nomination."

In 2012, neither former Massachusetts Governor Romney nor President Obama faced stiff competition in New England within their own parties, so a major ad ware never ensued. This year, the Republican field is crowded with well-funded candidates backed by deep-pocketed super-PACs. Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who placed third in Iowa, needs to maintain momentum to become the establishment candidate of choice, while former Governor Jeb Bush wants to edge out Rubio, as well as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich.

There's also Trump, who placed second behind Senator Ted Cruz earlier this week in the Iowa caucuses even though he went into the contest with a small lead in the polls. After that defeat, Trump appears to be taking little for granted in New Hampshire, where he leads the most recent voter surveys by an average of 22 percentage points, according to RealClear Politics.

"It's a must-win state for Trump," said Lara Brown, head of the political management program at George Washington University. "He doesn’t have the ground game and he doesn’t have the organization, so at this late time, the only thing you can do is saturate the airwaves."   

The surge in ad spending also comes from rising prices. While federal election laws guarantee low advertising prices for campaigns, outside groups like super-PACs have to pay a market rate. For the same spot, super-PACs have been known to fork out as much as seven times more than a candidate's official campaign committee.

In Manchester, a media market that covers the biggest amount of New Hampshire, Rubio and his super-PAC dominated the field with 31 percent of the Republican presidential ads during the past 30 days, according to CMAG data. Trump accounted for 11 percent.

Candidates also advertise in markets outside of the state that capture New Hampshire viewers. In fact, Trump's biggest presence was in Portland, Maine, where his advertising comprised 46 percent of all the spots aired in the Republican contest. In Burlington, Vermont, he accounted for 28 percent of Republican ads.

Trump advertised less in the expensive Boston market, where some experts say money is wasted because it's pricey and so many of the viewers are in Massachusetts. Ads for Trump accounted for 12 percent of all Republican candidate advertising of that market in the past 30 days, while Bush and Right to Rise had 49 percent. Marco Rubio and an outside group supporting him comprised 16 percent and Chris Christie and his super-PAC had 15 percent. Ohio Governor John Kasich and outside groups supporting him have bought up 5 percent of the ads.

There can be wide swings in prices between those markets. In one instance, Trump had a contract to spend $20,000 for a 30-second ad during the airing of "60 Minutes" on WBZ-TV in Boston on Jan. 10, while he was being charged $1,200 for a similar ad during the same show in Burlington, Vermont, according to contracts filed with the Federal Communication Commission.

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