Republican presidential candidates and outside groups supporting them have already poured an estimated $24 million into political ads in South Carolina, nearly triple the amount spent on the party's entire primary there in 2012. And there are still 10 days to go.
Almost half of that spending—$11.6 million—has come from Right to Rise USA, the super-PAC backing Jeb Bush, according to data from Kantar Media's CMAG, which tracks political ads on broadcast TV and national cable. In the 2012 contest, candidates and groups spent a total of $8.7 million.
Donald Trump's victory in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, along with a strong second-place showing by John Kasich, ensured that the candidates vying for the establishment vote would continue to fight for the nomination in South Carolina, where the nation's next primary is scheduled for Feb. 20.
According to CMAG, a quarter of the money was spent between Jan. 26 and Feb. 8. The count includes spots that aired in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, as well as Charlotte, North Carolina and Augusta and Savannah, Georgia, which have TV markets that reach Palmetto State viewers.
The race for the White House is entering a new stage following votes in Iowa and New Hampshire, where campaigns are traditionally built around small gatherings with voters. Entering South Carolina, several candidates will depend much more heavily on the deep pockets of outside groups such as super-PACs to pay for blistering attack ads on their opponents. While those groups aren't allowed to coordinate with the candidates, they're free to spend unlimited amounts on ads. Most of the money spent in South Carolina thus far has come from outside groups.
Trump, who is leading in the polls and self-financing his campaign, has spent an estimated $524,000 on TV ads in South Carolina, having only started to buy them about three weeks ago, according to CMAG. He ran a spot this week attacking Ted Cruz as “the worst kind of Washington insider who just can't be trusted.”
For his part, Cruz has also stepped up his spending. His campaign and two outside groups supporting him together spent an estimated $2.1 million in commercials between Jan. 26 and Feb. 8, according to CMAG.
Lara Brown, director of George Washington University's political management program, said that South Carolina is critical for Cruz to regain momentum. Cruz notched a decisive victory in Iowa but then placed third in New Hampshire.
“If he's going to reclaim the upper hand, then he needs to win there,” Brown said.
While Trump and Cruz fight for the anti-establishment wing of the party, Marco Rubio and outside groups backing him are battling Bush and Kasich for the more moderate vote. Rubio came in a disappointing fifth in New Hampshire, crushing the momentum he had after placing a stronger-than-expected third in Iowa.
Of the estimated $6.9 million spent on Rubio's behalf in South Carolina since the campaign began, a little more than half has come since the beginning of this year. And more than $1.4 million was spent in the past two weeks. Brown, of George Washington University, said Rubio needs to place in the top three to be able to stay in the race and claim that he can be the establishment candidate.
Bush is also banking on a strong showing in South Carolina. Despite having the immediate front-runner status when he entered the race last year and a super-PAC backing him with more than $100 million in its war chest, Bush has struggled to struggled in the polls. South Carolina, though, has been good to his family in the past: both his brother, former President George W. Bush, and his father, former President George H. W. Bush, won the state's presidential primary.
The super-PAC backing Bush, Right to Rise, is on the job. The group accounts for about half of all the money spent by all candidates and their affiliated outside groups since April 5, when Cruz's campaign fired the opening salvo with an ad on local NBC affiliates during “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” according to CMAG.
Right to Rise spent an estimated $1.9 million from Jan. 26 through Feb. 8 in the state, according to CMAG. On Feb. 7, the super-PAC began running ads featuring Bush's brother. “Experience and judgment count in the oval office,” the former president says as he touts his brother.
The spending in South Carolina follows an expensive battle in New Hampshire where more than an estimated $100 million was spent on ads in the media markets covering the state. From Jan. 1 through Feb. 8, the campaigns and groups spent more than $40 million on broadcast TV ads alone, CMAG data shows.
Right to Rise also outspent others in New Hampshire, dropping an estimated $25 million through Feb. 8, according to CMAG, far more than any other candidate.
Kasich hasn't bought ads in South Carolina since November.
Meanwhile, Democrats have begun to spend on ads in Nevada, where the party's next nominating contest is Feb. 20. In past month, Clinton spent an estimated $1.6 million on ads, about 14 percent more than Bernie Sanders, who won the New Hampshire primary.
All totaled, since Jan. 1, 2015, Sanders has spent $1.85 million in TV ads in Nevada while Clinton has put in $1.7 million, according to CMAG.