Rubio is pummeling the airwaves in the Hawkeye State like no other Republican presidential candidate, as he and his affiliated super PAC have reserved and spent roughly $12.5 million both promoting the Florida senator and slashing his rivals, according to media tracking sources.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's super PAC, Right to Rise, has dropped roughly $15 million there, but a good portion of those ads are aimed at castigating Rubio as a political neophyte who skips votes and flip-flops on immigration.
It's not just Iowa. Rubio and his PAC, Conservatives Solutions PAC, have poured in $15.2 million in New Hampshire, including ads taking aim at both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Cruz. Rubio and his allies have dumped another $11.6 million on the South Carolina airwaves, sources said. By contrast, Cruz and several political action committees that support him have reserved or spent just over $10 million in the first three states so far.
The ad spending provides a window into Rubio's strategy heading into the key primary contests in February. He is trying rely heavily on the air war to solidify his standing in the top tier, ensuring he continues to hang around as the alternative to Donald Trump or Cruz when other establishment favorites potentially drop out.
And unlike other candidates like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is relying almost exclusively on a strong showing in New Hampshire, Rubio is trying to stay competitive nationally if the nominating contest becomes a delegate-by-delegate slugfest across the country.
It's a roll of the dice.
Since 1976, no GOP candidate has won the nomination after failing to win the first two states, and Rubio faces considerable opposition from several well-financed campaigns. But Rubio and his team are increasingly banking on a long-game strategy to take the nomination. They believe they have to end up in a strong third-place position in Iowa, take second place in New Hampshire and pitch himself as a unity candidate ahead of South Carolina, where his advisers hope he's positioned to pull off a victory.
But first, he'll have to deliver a knockout blow to one his biggest foes: Christie, who has come under fire for confusing statements about his past support for Sonia Sotomayor to sit on the Supreme Court.
"Sonia Sotomayor is maybe -- and this is a high standard -- maybe the most liberal justice on the Supreme Court," Rubio told voters Wednesday in Plymouth, New Hampshire.
Rubio also has to contend with Kasich, whose super PAC and campaign have spent roughly $12 million here in New Hampshire while staying off the Iowa airwaves.
Christie is also spending heavily here in the Granite State, spending $10 million -- mostly from his super PAC -- and a fraction of that amount in the other states. And Bush is the one candidate spending far more than Rubio. So far, Bush and his PAC, Right to Rise, have reserved or spent roughly $38 million here in New Hampshire alone -- with another $10 million in South Carolina.
The strategies of the campaigns have differed. Cruz has been purchasing ad time a few weeks a time, compared to other campaigns that reserved time earlier to get better rates. So Cruz may end up dipping deeper into his war chest to pummel the airwaves ahead of Iowa's caucuses on February 1.
Indeed, the Texas conservative plans to spend big in the final two weeks in South Carolina and Iowa. He came out Wednesday with a narrowly tailored ad in South Carolina making an appeal to the state's military community.
But in New Hampshire, Cruz is spending just $80,000 per week, with his PAC spending little money on the radio, a sign that the Texas conservative's strategy rests heavily on doing well in the first and third nominating contests.
But money on the air doesn't always translate into good poll numbers, as Trump often tells reporters, pointing to Bush's standing in the early states. The bombastic billionaire has reserved and spent roughly $4 million in Iowa and New Hampshire, with barely $60,000 in South Carolina.