Super PACS Dominate Early Campaign Advertising in N.H.

Sep 2, 2015

New Day for America is one of two Super PACs buying ads to support Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich in New Hampshire.

If you have any lingering doubt that Super PACs will play an outsized role in the New Hampshire primary, consider this: More than three quarters of the television advertising aimed at first-in-the-nation primary voters this year has been reserved not by candidates, but by independent political groups.

As of August 31, nearly $15 million in primary-related advertising has aired or been reserved through primary day (tentatively scheduled for Feb. 9), according to documents filed online with the Federal Communications Commission by network broadcasters in New Hampshire and Boston. (Cable stations are not required to post their political ad files online.)

Super PACs, which are prohibited by federal regulations from coordinating their messages with candidates, account for more than $11.4 million of that commitment.

Republicans leaning hard on Super PACs

A few ads ought to be familiar.

Two Super PACs that support Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich – running second behind Donald Trump in a recent New Hampshire poll - have spent $2.6 million and aired close to 1,000 commercials since he announced his candidacy in July.

Kasich’s campaign, meanwhile, has spent nothing on television ads in New Hampshire.

Republican Chris Christie’s campaign has spent $142,250 on TV ads – a fraction of the $2.2 million shelled out so far by America Leads, the Super PAC backing the New Jersey governor’s White House bid. The group has ads scheduled through September.

Credit Sara Plourde / NHPR

Republican Jeb Bush has struggled on the trail and in polls, but a Super PAC backing the former Florida governor is hoping that will change once more potential voters tune into the race. 

That group, Right to Rise USA, will launch its first ads supporting Bush on September 15. So far, the group – which has announced plans to spend more than $11 million in New Hampshire – has reserved time for some 1,500 spots through December 28, at an estimated cost of about $3.9 million.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the first candidate to book ad time in New Hampshire, has run a low-key campaign and has yet to appear on the air. But both the Republican candidate and a Super PAC supporting him expect he'll be around in the end.

According to FCC files, Rubio has reserved time for 1,383 ads, starting in November, right up through Feb. 9, at a cost of nearly $1.9 million, while the Super PAC, Conservative Solutions, has reserved $2 million in ad time for the final month of the campaign alone.

Hillary Clinton is the only Democratic candidate who has advertised in New Hampshire. Her campaign, which aired it first ad in early August, has reserved $1.4 million in time through the end of the year.

A Super PAC allied with her campaign, Priorities USA, helped re-elect President Obama in 2012, but has yet to make any ad buys in New Hampshire or other early voting states.

Banner year ahead for TV advertising

2016 is expected to be a record year for political advertising, thanks to Super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts for so-called independent expenditures. Estimates put the amount of political ad spending on broadcast television stations, which account for 80 to 90 percent of all political advertising, at $3.5 billion to 4.4 billion.

As in past election years, WMUR-TV is expected to be the favorite vehicle of primary-related advertising in New Hampshire. More than 70 percent of the ad time that has been reserved so far – some $11 million worth - has been with the Manchester-based station.

Meanwhile, WBIN, which launched in late 2011, appears to hold little appeal for political advertisers. The station has reserved less than $150,000 in ad time so far.

With the primary still five months away, that could change, of course.

To date, only nine of 22 declared candidates have been backed by ads. But Super PACs could allow lesser-funded campaigns to remain in the race longer, so who's around to advertise as Primary Day approaches is hard to predict.