Buying of the President

Published — April 5, 2016

Bernie Sanders hopes ad blast will win Wisconsin

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is seen on a video camera monitor as he speaks during a rally at a local union hall on April 4, 2016, in Janesville, Wisconsin. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Underdog Democrat airs roughly a third of all presidential TV ads in weeks before primary


Hoping to squeeze out a win, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign aired more than 5,700 TV ads in the two weeks ahead of Tuesday’s Wisconsin presidential primary — more than a third of the nearly 16,000 TV ads aired by both Republicans and Democrats leading up to the Badger State battle.

One Sanders ad, titled “People Before Polluters,” aired roughly once every 20 minutes since March 22, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of preliminary data compiled by Kantar Media/CMAG, a political advertising data firm.

Sanders’ Wisconsin ad blitz follows a massive $44 million fundraising haul in March, funds that can buoy Sanders campaign for months leading up to July’s Democratic National Convention. Meanwhile, Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton raked in a less stellar $29.5 million in March.

On the airwaves, Sanders outpaced Clinton by more than 2,400 TV ads ahead of Wisconsin’s primary.

“When you’re getting your message out there more than your opponent, that’s helpful,” said Travis Ridout, co-director of the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising. “It sends a signal that you’re a viable candidate.”

“If all people saw were Clinton ads, they would question his [Sanders’] viability,” Ridout added.

Sanders is leading the polls by a thin margin in Wisconsin, where 86 delegates are up for grabs. But even if he wins, Wisconsin’s Democratic primary is not “winner take all” meaning that Clinton can still come away with a decent delegate haul.

Sanders’ path to the nomination is narrowing. Clinton is ahead by 263 pledged delegates, not counting super delegates. With the path to nomination clearing, Clinton supporters are pivoting to the general election.

Priorities USA Action, a super PAC backing Clinton, has already started to reserve ad space in states such as Ohio, Nevada and Colorado in the months before July’s convention, according to Federal Communications Commission records. The super PAC plans to reserve $70 million worth of ads, according to the group’s operatives.

The pro-Clinton super PAC — which can raise and spend money in unlimited amounts — has brought in more than $55 million. So far this cycle, billionaire George Soros has donated $7 million to Priorities USA Action. (The Center for Public Integrity receives some funding from the Open Society Foundations, which are funded by Soros.)

Though Sanders and Clinton have consistently traded public jabs — this week over Clinton receiving donations from the fossil fuel industry — all was positive on the airwaves. Neither aired an attack ad, opting to focus on character and proposals.

Meanwhile, it hasn’t been quite as rosy on the Republican side.

Nearly 60 percent of ads shown in Wisconsin at least partially attacked another candidate, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG data.

Though slowing down from previous weeks, an anti-Donald Trump coalition of groups aired nearly 1,500 ads that in part attacked Trump.

Another popular target was Gov. John Kasich. A recently formed pro-Sen. Ted Cruz super PAC called Trusted Leadership PAC used all of its ad space to knock down Kasich. In one ad, Kasich is portrayed as President Barack Obama’s “BFF.”

Read more in Money and Democracy

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