Bush TV ad spending in N.H. hasn’t paid off in polls
Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders also lead New Hampshire ad spending
WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush may be struggling to rise in the New Hampshire polls, but it's not for a lack of spending to get his message out.
The former Florida governor had the advantage of more TV spots, sponsored by his campaign or a super PAC supporting him, on New Hampshire and Boston channels in the last two months than any other candidate in the Granite State presidential primary, according to a Globe analysis. There were more than 3,600 airings, for a total of more than 34 hours.
A big part of that domination came from the money Bush and his super PAC, Right to Rise, spent for ads on WMUR, the state's largest television station; his investment was second only to Marco Rubio's. The combined effort for Bush was on track to spend about $3.5 million in the crucial 10 weeks since the beginning of December, compared with more than $4 million by Rubio and his super PAC, according to public records.
The numbers reflect one of the lessons of the 2016 campaign, at least in the early states: that bankrolling huge advertising buys has become less important in many instances than media coverage and the narrative arc of a candidacy.
The Globe analyzed two sources of information: the Political TV Ad Archive, a project funded by the Knight Foundation that reveals the amount of air time on all broadcast stations; and Federal Communication Commission documents, which disclose spending.
Together, the records provide a snapshot of the television ad blitz launched by the Republican and Democratic candidates in the state.
Donald Trump, the consistent leader in the polls in New Hampshire and nationally despite his loss last week in Iowa, was on track to spend $424,000 in New Hampshire, a relatively small sum among GOP contenders. That was nearly as little as Ted Cruz's $246,000.
Among Democrats, who launched a more modest blitz, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont has been outspending Hillary Clinton since the beginning of December, $1.95 million to $1.33 million.
Fergus Cullen, the former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, said New Hampshire residents are so bombarded by ads at this point that the amount of money candidates spend on airtime matters little.
In all over the last 10 weeks, according to the Globe estimate, the leading Republican and Democratic candidates have spent about $15 million for ads on WMUR.
Cullen attributed Rubio's recent rise in the New Hampshire polls more to favorable media attention the Florida senator received following his third-place finish in Iowa, a burst of attention driven by beating expectations.
"It's multiple times more valuable to him than any advertising they have done," said Cullen, who is backing Governor John Kasich of Ohio in the primary. "The earned media so outweighs the paid media that it almost doesn't matter."
Ken Gogan, a realtor from Nashua, said all the ads he has seen from Bush haven't changed his dislike for the candidate's brother, former President George W. Bush. "He just has the wrong last name," said Gogan, who is supporting Trump. "People just don't want another round of Bushes."
Lebanon resident Al Tedeschi, a pharmaceutical consultant who was still undecided Sunday, said he wants to support the candidate with the most integrity. But the overwhelming volume of ads on TV and mailers have only complicated his decision, he said.
"If you believed everything you read, you wouldn't vote for anybody," he said. "I'm feeling frustrated, because it's hard to get accurate information. It's hard to decipher what is true and what is not true."
While Bush's domination of the airwaves seems to have had little effect on his standing, spending on negative ads probably kept some of his rivals in check, said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. Most of the ads run by Bush and Right to Rise have been either negative or mixed.
"It hasn't helped his standing much, certainly, in the polls," Scala said. "But I think it has helped him to keep his competition within reach."
In the Democratic campaign, Sanders aired roughly 32 hours of ads in the state. Clinton aired 23 hours worth of spots. Unlike on the Republican side, where super PAC money has played a large role, neither Sanders nor Clinton has seen outside groups spend significantly on ads on their behalf in New Hampshire.
WMUR spending is one indicator of which candidates are putting resources into the state with the first primary, but candidates also book ad time on Boston stations, which is typically more expensive and less efficient.
Cruz's minimal ad spending in New Hampshire was part of a calculated decision to pour resources into Iowa, where he beat Trump by 3 percentage points in last Monday's caucus. Cruz had a better shot among religious conservatives in Iowa than he will among New Hampshire's more moderate electorate. "If he had to pick an early state to invest in, it had to be Iowa," Scala said. "It was essential that he win over religious conservatives early to have a shot at building a coalition to win the nomination. It makes sense that he would spend little time and few resources [in New Hampshire]."
At this point, Cullen said, it matters little how much the campaigns spend. With such a saturated market, each ad a candidate buys is a drop in the bucket. "I use a nuclear war analogy for this: mutually assured destruction. You cancel each other out," he said. "The marginal advantages of one ad or one piece of mail . . . they just become less and less effective."
Gogan said the overwhelming negativity of the ads he sees and the campaigns in general make him wish he were far away. "I've seen a lot of campaigns, and I've never seen so much mud," the 60-year-old said. "I'd love to be in England right now in a pub and watch them betting on us. We've got to be the laughingstock of the world right now."