Thirteen days until the Pennsylvania primary. That means 13 more days of the inevitable: Not being able to watch the news or a sporting event or one of Shonda Rhimes’ soap operas prime time dramas without being bombarded with commercials begging you to consider this candidate or that issue before hitting the polls on April 26.
And while you’re complaining about those candidates whose faces you can’t stop seeing, at least appreciate one thing: They (and sometimes super PACs dedicated to their cause) have spent millions of dollars to be there.
As of Tuesday, 6ABC had made nearly $2 million alone on just ads for the upcoming U.S. Senate primary, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission. Three attorney general candidates are dropping hundreds of thousands just to get on your screen. And, oddly enough, the people who can really afford to be on TV here in Philly — Republicans running for president — haven’t yet purchased time, according to the most recent filings.
Money from each political candidate vying for Philadelphia’s vote is being spent quicker than you can say “special interests.” That’s because young people can talk all they want about the Internet, but when it comes to political advertising, analysts roundly agree: TV reigns supreme.
Billy Penn analyzed FCC filings from four Philadelphia-based networks — 6ABC, NBC10, Fox 29 and CBS3 — to see just who was spending what and how they were targeting it.
The presidential campaign
Not one Republican presidential candidate has purchased a TV ad in Philadelphia. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spent a total of half a million dollars advertising in the very left-leaning Philadelphia and its less left-leaning ‘burbs.
The Republican campaigns still have time to purchase space on the air. But time is running out.
Nationwide frontrunner Donald Trump, who is stumping today in Pittsburgh, leads polls in Pennsylvania, and some analysts have said Pennsylvania could be the last hope for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
It’s possible Republican candidates for president haven’t gobbled up air time in the Philadelphia area because, at the end of the day, how the Pennsylvania public votes is almost irrelevant to how the delegates from Pennsylvania vote at the Republican National Convention. Because the majority of the Keystone State’s delegates are uncommitted heading into the convention, they can vote for whomever they want — regardless of how their district votes in the primary.
The Democrats are another story. For months, it looked like Clinton had Pennsylvania all but won; then, a recent poll released last week (before both candidates made appearances in Philly) showed Sanders closing the gap between himself and the former secretary of state.
Here’s a look at Clinton’s newest ad that political watchers have said is clearly being run in the Philadelphia area to lock down black voters:
In total, Sanders spent more than Clinton did advertising on Philadelphia networks, with his campaign dropping $314,000 so far to Clinton’s $221,000. Both candidates spent the most cash on placing ads on 6ABC and neither purchased ads from KYW yet.
With the millions of dollars floating around to pay for the presidential race, you’d think these candidates spent the most on advertisements in the Philadelphia area.
But it’s not even close.
Sure, Pennsylvania *could* matter when it comes to who each party will nominate to head to the general election in November to ultimately take the White House.
But it will absolutely, unequivocally matter in whether or not Democrats take control of the Senate.
Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, is considered to be one of the most vulnerable Republican senators nationwide and the Democrats can’t seem to rally behind a candidate to take him on. The establishment is pushing millions to back Katie McGinty, Gov. Tom Wolf’s former chief of staff and a one-time gubernatorial candidate who came in fourth place out of four.
But leading in polls is former Congressman Joe Sestak, a guy who has never been able to fully gain the support of the Democratic establishment — and a guy who lost to Toomey once before.
Then there’s wildcard candidate John Fetterman, the no-nonsense, Bernie-Sanders-backing mayor of a small western Pennsylvania town who has ideas to take to Congress but who also hasn’t raised anywhere close to the amount of money McGinty, Sestak and Toomey — and their respective super PACs — have.
Meanwhile, nearly half of likely Democratic voters in Pennsylvania remain undecided, meaning a last minute ad blitz could make all the difference on April 26.
Between the four candidates and their super PACs, more than $4.3 million has been spent just on advertising on Philadelphia networks as of Tuesday, per the FCC filings. McGinty leads the pack and spent $1.2 million of her own campaign dollars on putting up ads in the Philly area ($700,000 of that went to perennial ratings king 6ABC).
Meanwhile, Sestak spent just more than $700,000 on ads on Philly networks while Fetterman dropped less than $80,000. Toomey, who doesn’t have a primary opponent on the Republican side, actually spent more than Fetterman, using up $254,355 of his hefty campaign coffers.
McGinty has significant outside support buying up ad space for her. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has endorsed McGinty for Senate and has so far poured $741,000 into ads for her here in Philly. The super PAC run by Emily’s List, a group that aims to elect pro-choice candidates, has bought up $647,000 worth of ad space just in the Philly networks, too. They’re the group McGinty’s campaign chief Ed Rendell (controversially) said would be in charge of $2 million worth of pro-McGinty independent expenditures.
Meanwhile, the super PAC Accountable Leadership that just formed earlier this year is supporting Sestak and has spent just over a quarter million dollars advertising in Philadelphia. Here’s Accountable Leadership’s ad touting Sestak:
Two super PACs supporting Toomey have spent a combined $440,000 running ads favoring the incumbent. One Nation, a super PAC connected to Karl Rove, spent $373,000 on Philadelphia networks running ads praising a child protection bill championed by Toomey. And the Judicial Crisis Network has purchased $68,000 worth of ads supporting Toomey’s stance that the next president should nominate a replacement of the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, not President Obama.
The only city congressional race that matters is happening in the second district, and boy it’s a doozy. The only candidate to have purchased ad space on the city’s networks so far is state Rep. Dwight Evans, who has spent a total of $73,905 advertising on all four local networks.
Neither of the other three Democrats on the ballot, including incumbent Chaka Fattah, have spent any money so far buying local ads. Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon and ward leader Dan Muroff are both set to be on the ballot, but haven’t yet purchased ad space.
Evans is considered to be one of the most formidable challengers against Fattah, who has held the same seat in Congress since 1994. But this year’s different: Fattah was charged last summer with 29 federal counts of corruption and prosecutors allege the longtime Philadelphia pol used his status to further his career and line the pockets of political associates.
Fattah, a West Philly fixture, vigorously denies the charges. But despite earning endorsements from some unions throughout the process, he’s struggled to raise the big dollars needed to get up on the airwaves.
If all you watched were commercials, it would be easy to think the only state office worth giving a damn about is attorney general. A number of well-funded candidates saw an opening in Harrisburg for someone to come in and say they’re going to fix up an office that’s been in the news for its leader being criminally charged and losing her license to practice law.
In Philadelphia, Republican candidates haven’t bought up ad space but three Democrats vying for their party’s nomination have spent a total of $1.6 million so far purchasing ad space, with each of them spending tens of thousands just to run a bunch of ads on April 25 — the day before the primary.
Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, who’s gained support from the likes of President Obama, Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Council President Darrell Clarke has spent the most cash so far here in Philly, putting down $841,430 to purchase ads.
But Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappala, who has the support of local union boss John Dougherty and Mayor Jim Kenney, is close behind and spent $729,835 on ads to woo Philadelphia area voters. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli spent $107,750.
Some of the most buzz around the race was generated by a controversial ad released by Zappala, one that his campaign spent $250,000 alone on just to run in the Philadelphia area.
The role of the networks
Media geeks, read on.
One of the most interesting things that came out of analyzing the primary ad buys was how much candidates tailored the money spent based on which networks they clearly think are going to reach their target voters.
6ABC has long been the ratings leader in the Philadelphia area, and that shows. The network made nearly $2 million on the Senate race alone and nearly $900,000 on the attorney general’s race — the latter of which is almost three times what NBC10 made.
Meanwhile, presidential candidates didn’t bother buying any ads on CBS3, which has languished in ratings and is pushing changes in its news team to better compete with NBC10.
Here’s how much money each of the networks made on the four races we looked at: