With more than four months to go before Election Day, President Obama, Mitt Romney, and their allies are already spending money at a faster pace than the final weeks of the 2008 presidential election.
According to sources watching the onslaught of campaign ads, all sides dropped more than $30 million in just the past week. By the end of September 2008, Obama, John McCain, and their respective backers spent a combined $28 million per week.
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In total, the campaigns have spent more than $170 million on television time so far during the general election. At the current clip, the two campaigns and their associated allies are poised to spend more than $700 million on television advertising alone. Campaigns typically increase their advertising spending as Election Day approaches, meaning the final amount will likely be far higher than that. Either way, it will easily eclipse the $515 million total both sides spent in the 2008 presidential contest.
The nail-biting nature of this year's race, the millions both Obama and Romney have raised, and the introduction of outside actors allowed to raise money in unlimited amounts have all contributed to the early spending spree. This week alone, Obama's campaign spent $15.8 million — more than half the total money spent on advertisements targeting the presidential contest.
Team Obama spread its cash out over nine battleground states. Between June 26 and July 2, the president's campaign spent $3.2 million in both Florida and Ohio, and more than $2 million in Virginia. And there's no sign of plans for much of a summer break: The Obama campaign has purchased $5.1 million in ads to be broadcast on NBC networks during the Olympic Games between July 27 and Aug. 12.
Romney's campaign has spent far less than Obama's as he replenishes his stockpile after the Republican primaries. This week, the Romney team dropped just $3 million on advertising, with the biggest investment being a $920,000 ad buy in Ohio. Romney's camp spent $547,000 in North Carolina and less than $500,000 each in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and Virginia.
But outside groups are doing their best to help Romney keep up. After going silent for a few weeks in order to rebuild their own coffers, the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC spent $3.4 million on ads this week, and Americans for Prosperity — the Koch-backed group based in Alexandria — began a major $9 million advertising buy across 12 swing states (this week, the group is spending a total of $4 million, according to the ad data).
With Restore Our Future on the air, Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)(4) organization affiliated with the American Crossroads super PAC, has shelved its own ad spending.
Democrats have warned that outside money will swamp them this year. But so far, that hasn't been the case. Obama and his allies have spent nearly $94 million on advertising, while Romney and his have spent $76.6 million.
Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia have received the most attention so far this year. By next week, all sides will have spent more than $30 million in both Florida and Ohio, and more than $20 million in Virginia and North Carolina. Voters in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, and Pennsylvania will have been subjected to more than $10 million in advertising.
Republicans are trying to broaden the electoral map, buying television time in states where Obama has yet to compete like Minnesota and New Mexico. That effort could pay off: After early Republican spending in Michigan and Wisconsin, two states that looked more solidly in the blue column, Obama's team has had to match Republican buys in both — indication that the states are more competitive now than they had been.
This week, however, no presidential ads are airing in Michigan. Republican outside groups are spending a total of $135,000 in New Mexico, $563,000 in Minnesota, and $901,000 in Wisconsin — all states where Obama's campaign is not advertising.