TV Ad Spending on Presidential Race Surpasses Two-Thirds of a Billion

Reid Wilson
National Journal

Spending on television advertising in the race for the White House has topped two-thirds of a billion dollars, according to sources watching the advertising market, with Republicans only narrowly outpacing those who back President Obama.

Battleground Ad Spending

With just seven weeks to go before Election Day, the two sides have rapidly stepped up their spending. They spent $47 million on television ads set to run from Sept. 18-24, more than double the amount expended during the week prior.

Obama's campaign remains the single-biggest spender, dishing out $16 million across 10 states last week. But Republican outside groups are closing the gap. Mitt Romney's campaign is spending $11 million this week alone, while groups that back his campaign are kicking in an additional $16.5 million. All told, Romney backers are outspending Obama backers, $27.6 million to $19.6 million.

Television stations in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia have all reaped more than $100 million, the data show, as the two campaigns and their supportive outside groups have dumped a total of $677 million onto the airwaves nationwide. Obama spent more than $3 million each in those three critical battleground states this week, while Romney spent between $2 million and $3 million in each.

This week alone, both sides are spending a combined $9.5 million in Florida, $8.9 million in Ohio, and $9 million in Virginia.

The president's campaign also spent more than $1 million this week trying to win votes in Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire. Romney's campaign, which is spreading its advertising dollars through nine states, spent between $500,000 and $1 million in Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. Obama spent more than $1 million each in the Denver, Orlando, Boston, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., media markets, while Romney only spent a seven-figure sum in Washington.

Romney's slower spending is more than made up by Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies and American Crossroads, the two wings of a Karl Rove-backed group that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)(4) branch that is allowed to keep donor identities secret, spent $5 million on advertising this week. American Crossroads, the super PAC that must disclose its donors to the Federal Election Commission, spent $8.5 million on its own advertising. Together, the two groups are outspending Obama's campaign in Colorado, where Republicans are surprisingly optimistic about their chances, and North Carolina, perhaps the most difficult swing state for Obama to hold this year.

Restore Our Future, the super PAC created specifically to bolster Romney's campaign, has begun spending after a brief absence from the scene. The group is going back into Michigan, a state about which Romney's team is pessimistic. The super PAC is spending $1.1 million there this week.

And as the map shifts, both sides are focusing more on Wisconsin, Rep. Paul Ryan's home state. After ignoring the state for months, both sides are spending a combined $2.9 million there this week. It is one of the few states in which Romney's campaign ($557,000 spent this week) is outpacing Obama's ($410,000 this week). Democrats remain confident, especially after several public polls out this week showed Obama comfortably ahead, but strategists say the Obama campaign is simply playing the political version of prevent defense.

Spending in Wisconsin has gone from a standstill to a booming business. After a summer free from advertising, the two sides have spent more than $16 million on advertising in the Badger State in the last seven weeks.

Republicans have a spending advantage, thanks to their outside groups. Those groups have spent about $251 million trying to paint Obama unfavorably, while Romney's campaign has spent $101 million.

The president's reelection campaign has doled out $264 million in ad spending, while Priorities USA Action, a supportive super PAC, has spent an additional $55.8 million. Planned Parenthood, which advertised earlier this year, spent small amounts in Ohio and Virginia this week to boost their total spending on Obama's behalf to $5 million.

In total, Obama and his backers have spent $325 million, compared with $352 million dished out by Romney, the Crossroads team and the rest of his backers.