Advertising spending in the 2020 presidential race just barreled past the $1 billion mark, driven by Michael Bloomberg’s relentless rounds of commercials promoting himself as the alternative to President Donald Trump.
Bloomberg, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, accounts for more than half of all the spending, as he has plowed more than $501 million into television, radio and digital advertising since entering the race four months ago, according to data from Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. That eclipses the $306.6 million President Barack Obama spent on advertising during the full two-year cycle leading up to the 2012 election.
“It’s just an astonishing number of ads,” said Erika Franklin Fowler, who co-directs the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising. “We’ve never seen anything like this before – not just the scale but in such a short window.”
“Citizens always say they get sick of the presidential election by Election Day,” she added. “But they can’t escape it now, and it’s just February.”
Whether Bloomberg’s record-shattering spending will translate into votes will come into view next week when voters in 14 states and one US territory cast ballots on Super Tuesday. The New York billionaire skipped the first four states in the nominating contests to focus on the states with primary contests on March 3, where a roughly third of the delegates needed to win the nomination are up for grabs.
The second biggest spending in the primary contest: the other billionaire in the race, California hedge-fund founder Tom Steyer, who has plowed nearly $210 million into advertising. Despite his spending, he trailed far behind his rivals in the first three nominating contests.
He’s hoping for a strong showing in South Carolina’s primary on Saturday, where he has outspent the field on the airwaves and has sought to make inroads among the African American community that will make up about 60% of the Democratic electorate.
Among the non-billionaires in the Democratic field, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the front-runner after wins in New Hampshire and Nevada, has spent the most on ads, about $50.3 million. Trump had spent nearly $59 million through Friday morning, Kantar’s figures show.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is counting on a strong showing in South Carolina to resuscitate his campaign for the Democratic nomination, has spent about $14.3 million to date on advertising, with roughly $900,000 of that sum focused on the Palmetto State, according to Kantar’s data.
Biden hopes a win in South Carolina will serve as a springboard to Super Tuesday, when an array of southern states with significant minority populations weigh in. This week, a super PAC supporting Biden’s candidacy argued that Bloomberg’s avalanche of advertising actually is aiding Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, by splitting the moderate vote.
“The blunt force of $500,000,000 in ads has accomplished one thing,” officials with the pro-Biden Unite the Country wrote, “further divided the moderate/liberal lane and simply lowered the necessary win number for Sanders in a number of big southern states.”
CNN’s David Wright contributed to this report.