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Presidential Debates Begin Today, But Political Ads Have Been Here For Months.


Eight candidates will be on the stage for tonight’s first Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee. But the advertising stage has had plenty of actors for months and ahead of any actual debating, let alone voting. AdImpact has tracked $5.2 million in ad spending just this week. To date, it has tracked about $149 million in political spending across radio, TV, and digital media. Not all of those dollars have become actual ads, however, with about 26% of that total booked for between September 2023 and January 2024 when the primary voting begins.


Five months until Iowa’s GOP Caucus, four of the top five markets for local broadcast dollars have been in the state. But it’s Boston where the single biggest amount of money has been dumped. AdImpact calculates it has received about a third of the spending as candidates use stations in the market to reach New Hampshire voters. Boston is followed by Cedar Rapids (25%), Des Moines (20%), Sioux City (10%), and Davenport (7%). Overall, AdImpact says broadcast television has gotten the majority of this week’s dollars, vacuuming up 65% of what has been spent.


As for this week’s top advertisers, they include the Best of America PAC, which is supporting North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum's presidential bid, and SFA Fund Inc., which is backing Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, and United Nations ambassador. But it is South Carolina Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) that is the candidate that has spent the most.


Unwilling to cede the field, President Biden’s reelection team is already spending despite no serious primary challenge for the Democrat. This week he is launching a $25 million ad blitz in several key battleground states.


“The buy includes both the largest and earliest media buy for a reelection campaign into constituency media ever, as well as the largest overall buy for a reelection campaign at this point in time ever, ensuring that President Biden’s message is heard throughout this year’s Republican primary,” a campaign rep told The Hill.


The 16-week advertising effort will mainly use TV and digital ads in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. But its effort to reach Black and Hispanic voters is expected to also use radio.


With political ad spending pacing well ahead of four years ago, forecasters expect 2023’s political ad tally to be better than expected. BIA Advisory Services forecasts local political ad spending will total $534 million this year. That’s a 30% increase from $410 million spent in 2021 and is more than double the $254 million invested in pre-pandemic 2019. BIA predicts over-the-air radio will get a 5.4% share of the total spent, with digital media – including streaming radio – taking 22.8%. Television will still have the biggest take at an estimated 43.1%.

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