Politics & Government

The Buzz: These 2020 Democrats are spending millions on the airwaves including in SC

Chances are if you’ve attended one of Elizabeth Warren’s S.C. rallies, you could soon see your face in one of her campaign ads.

That is what the Massachusetts U.S. senator’s campaign manager Roger Lau said in a fall strategy memo announcing the launch of an eight-figure ad buy.

Warren is one of a small handful of 2020 Democratic hopefuls with plans to sink millions of dollars into TV and digital ads in early voting states. That includes South Carolina where Warren has enjoyed a rise in the polls but still struggles with name ID familiarity.

How much of that spending will trickle down into the Palmetto State is unknown, including for former Vice President Joe Biden, whose campaign said in an email this month it has reserved $6 million in TV and digital ad buys across all four early voting states.

Much of that cash will likely focus on buying ads in Iowa, where Biden and Warren remain neck-and-neck in the polls, and other early states where the contest is more competitive.

But South Carolina will see plenty of ads.

“South Carolina has traditionally been an economical state to do battle in,” said Carey Crantford, a Columbia-based Democratic consultant. “Because we don’t have the size of California, New York with their multiple urban media markets.”

According to Medium Buying, an ad tracking firm which tracked TV reservations based on what is publicly available, Warren has reserved at least $1.4 million in TV ad space in South Carolina alone through the state’s Feb. 29 “first in the South” primary.

Biden has reserved another $1.5 million, a firm representative also told The State noting that a campaign’s ad reservations on TV can always be canceled.

Both campaigns acknowledge their approach to ads is not just about reaching voters through their TVs.

“It will be more digital than old-school broadcast television,” Warren’s campaign manager Lau said in his memo, adding, “and we have built an in-house staff to produce videos and ads rather than adopt the consultant-driven approach of other campaigns.”

And Biden’s campaign manager Greg Schultz said, “We are not only going to reach them through traditional TV ads, but through dynamic paid media campaigns that will reach voters on their televisions, phones, laptops, and more.”

What Biden and Warren are spending on ads can say a lot, “but it also tells you nothing,” Crantford said.

“South Carolina is pretty cheap,” he added. “An ad buy of a million (dollars) will go a long way.”

The poll’s two top contenders are not the only candidates spending money in South Carolina.

South Carolinians are unlikely to miss a Tom Steyer ad on TV or a billboard featuring the face of U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Even before he declared himself a candidate in the crowded race, the California billionaire spent millions of dollars of his own money into early voting states on ads that focused primarily on impeaching the president.

Steyer is not done, especially in South Carolina, after he made his first primary debate stage appearance this month. He has already reserved more than $600,000 in TV air time through the S.C. primary, according to Medium Buying.

“The Democratic primary here is kind of like a rolling craps game,” Crantford said. “It starts in one state, the consequences of that rolls into the next ... and then finally it rolls into South Carolina.”

Meaning, Crantford said, what happens in South Carolina spending-wise “to a certain degree is a function of what’s to come.”

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Maayan Schechter (My-yahn Schek-ter) covers the S.C. State House and politics for The State. She grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Asheville. She has previously worked at the Aiken Standard and the Greenville News.