Hillary Clinton and her PAC will spend $4.1 million in 11 states. Bernie Sanders has laid out over $1.2 million in Colorado alone. Marco Rubio’s PAC will pour $1.2 million into eight states, while Ted Cruz’s campaign will cough up $185,000 in five states. John Kasich only wrote $35,000 in checks for ads in Massachusetts and Vermont.
But what about the big dog on the Republican side? Bupkis:
Billionaire self-funding front runner Trump apparently has ZERO TV ads on in Super Tuesday states. Today sorta last day to add buys
— Mark Halperin (@MarkHalperin) February 25, 2016
NBC News noticed it on Tuesday:
Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, hasn’t spent a single cent on ads in Super Tuesday states.
At this point, why should he? Trump has managed to dominate the news cycle; even when political coverage shifts to his opponents, it’s usually in the context of The Donald. For instance, coverage of Rubio and Cruz has mainly focused on whether either or both of them will put more effort into attacking You Know Who. Cable news shows on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and even the alphabet broadcasters allow Trump to do over-the-phone appearances rather than in-studio or on-camera satellite hookups in order to get him on as often as possible.
With access like that, who needs ads?
It sets up an interesting question, though. Some of this “earned media” will continue after the convention if Trump wins the nomination, but it’s going to get much tougher to get in some quarters. Fox News will probably give Trump significant access, but MSNBC and the alphabets will likely pull back on the reins, and start providing tougher questions that might erode the value of that access. Will Trump spend the money in the fall? He’s certainly got the money, even though some are quibbling over just how many billions of dollars Trump might have at the moment. So far, he hasn’t shown much indication that he’d be willing to spend it, and he’s still very coy about the fundraising that he’s conducting to cover some expenses now.
Of course, that might be part of the strategy. Anything he doesn’t spend now can be spent later when it counts in a general election — and he certainly doesn’t need to spend it now.
There are a couple of other Super Tuesday ad spending patterns to note. One, no Republican is spending any dollars in Minnesota, which isn’t terribly surprising, but it’s the only state which isn’t getting GOP money. (Colorado isn’t either, but the Republican primary is at the end of March.) Rubio’s allies are dropping a lot of money into Texas, while Cruz isn’t spending any money there. Rubio apparently wants to push Cruz out by surpassing him in his home state, and polling has shown a close enough race where it might work. In fact, every single state where Team Cruz has invested, Team Rubio has exceeded the investment. That had better pay off for Rubio, or it might prompt the opposite reaction intended among GOP institutional donors.
That fight might not matter much, though, if Trump cruises to easy wins on Tuesday. A series of second-place finishes will not impress much if the same person keeps coming in first and taking most of the delegates in the SEC primaries.