With only four weeks until the Iowa caucuses, the ad wars are escalating. Recent reporting gives us an idea of which issues candidates think will resonate the most with their voters, and which candidates they see as their main rivals – or at least the ones they think need to be taken down a notch. Several candidates lagging in the polls are using this strategy, hoping to break through in either Iowa or New Hampshire.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is taking the gloves off against Ted Cruz in a new video touting his achievements in the Senate and hitting the Texas senator for his apparent penchant for reading children's books to score political points, featuring Cruz's wife and daughters in a brief clip of his opponent's own ad.
"Ted Cruz is wonderful at reading children’s fairy tales on the Senate floor," the spot titled, appropriately, "Fairy Tales" begins, showing Cruz reading Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham" during a filibuster on the Senate floor in 2013….
"Rick Santorum spent his time in the Senate a little differently," the narrator says. "Eight years on the Senate Armed Services Committee, helping to modernize today’s Army to better be prepared for today’s threats. Santorum also wrote and passed tough laws putting harsh sanctions on Iran."
Santorum, the 2012 Iowa caucus winner, is banking on a similar come-from-behind showing to propel him into contention again, and the evangelical, socially conservative voters that Cruz seems to be attracting are vital to his hopes.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich is also on the air with his first ads of the season, with the Washington Examiner reporting on a biographical ad being shown in New Hampshire:
With a hard folk rock background, a narrator describes Kasich's early challenges: "He lived a hardscrabble life in a rusty steel town. ... When he lost his parents to a drunk driver, he had the faith to carry on."
The spot, entitled, "America: Never Give Up," will air in New Hampshire and on Boston stations that reach the Granite State….
Advertising has long been a considered linchpin of successful political campaigns, but the success of Donald Trump, who has sparsely advertised, while earning lots of free airtime via media coverage, has undermined the traditional approach.
Another back-of-the-pack candidate, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, got some welcome news over the weekend: an independent super PAC led by longtime libertarian advocate Ed Crane has reserved $500,000 in advertising in Iowa to support his campaign:
PurplePAC, a super PAC overseen by longtime libertarian activist and Cato Institute co-founder Ed Crane, has reserved roughly $500,000 in television time in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids in the final two weeks ahead of the Iowa caucuses, according to a media buyer and records with the Federal Communications Commission.
The new ad reservation comes only months after Crane expressed exasperation with Paul’s campaign operation. “I want to grab Rand by the lapels and say, ‘What are you doing?’” Crane told POLITICO in September. “I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. But whatever motivates his campaign, I don’t get it.”
And according to The New York Times, the ad wars are about to get brutal:
Supporters of Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee are poised to unleash a wave of ferocious attacks this month, according to Republicans familiar with their planning, plunging the muddled contest into a multidimensional war in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses….
Mr. Bush’s supporters effectively ended the Christmas truce last week when they went on the air in Iowa with an ad savaging Mr. Rubio over his Senate attendance record and with a New Hampshire commercial contrasting Mr. Bush’s achievements as Florida’s governor with Gov. Chris Christie’s tenure in New Jersey and Gov. John R. Kasich’s record in Ohio. The coming offensive will be just as varied, reflecting the layers of the Republican race….
Mr. Santorum’s campaign was the first to directly confront Mr. Cruz on the air, going up with a commercial in Iowa mocking him for reading Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor. In addition to Mr. Santorum, the Iowa-based super PAC backing Mr. Huckabee is preparing to target Mr. Cruz more forcefully there.
How effective these ads will be is anybody’s guess – the tens of millions spent so far by candidates don't appear to have done much, although Kasich did experience a rise in support in New Hampshire after a super PAC backing his candidacy aired ads in the late summer. That bump appears to have receded, however.
Negative ads have had significant impact in the past, and it’s possible their arrival will finally provide voters just now tuning in to the contest with information that will undermine one or more candidates. Whether that’s enough to lift any of the trailing candidates into contention remains to be seen.