Iowans take their first-in-the-nation nominating contest status seriously. As a result, though, they are not even safe in their own homes from politicians.
In the final days before the Iowa caucuses, Democrats are bombarding the local airwaves with ads as polls show it’s a tight race heading into Monday’s contest.
In just one local newscast on Wednesday morning in Des Moines, viewers were subjected to no less than ten political ads. Two were from South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, two from Senator Elizabeth Warren, and one each from former Vice President Joe Biden, Senators Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, and Tom Steyer along with a couple of outside groups.
Since the 2020 presidential election cycle began, Democratic candidates and other groups have spent more than $71 million on TV and radio ads in Iowa leading up to the caucuses so far. In 2016, candidates and other groups spent a total of $79.8 million overall on the presidential race heading into the caucuses on both the Democratic and Republican side.
With days still to go, Steyer has spent more than $16 million on political TV and radio ads in the state, the most of any candidate. Sanders has spent nearly $11 million so far, and Buttigieg has spent nearly $10.5 million. Warren and Yang have each spent more than $6 million on TV ads. While Biden has spent around $4.2 million on ads, a super PAC supporting him, Unite the Country, has spent a separate $4.5 million. Klobuchar’s campaign has dropped nearly $4 million on Iowa ads. Even Senator Michael Bennet, who has barely registered in polls, has spent just over $1 million.
Final pitches hitting the airwaves have run the gamut from solving issues like high drug prices and health care to Washington corruption. In many cases, the ads amount to condensed versions of stump speeches, boiled down from rallies on the campaign trail to a minute or less.
One Sanders’ spot features the viral moment from his Queens, New York rally, where the senator asked “Take a look around you and find someone you don’t know. Maybe someone doesn’t look kind of like you. Are you willing to fight for that person, as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself? If you and millions of others are prepared to do that, not only will we win this election, but together we will transform this country.”
Biden is using a similar pitch to the one he highlighted during a campaign stop last week in Waukee, Iowa. “It’s said in here, your character is revealed” a narrator says under an image of the Oval Office.
Warren leaned into the electability argument with an ad titled “She Can Win,” featuring an Iowan who caucused for Trump in 2016 but now supports Warren. In another ad, she reminded voters she used to be a registered Republican. And yet another highlights her Republican family members and working-class roots.
Klobuchar is pushing a final message of unity. “Iowa it’s time to choose,” an ad begins before touting the recent string of endorsements for the Minnesota senator. “Klobuchar can unite our party and perhaps our nation that’s why she’s visited all of Iowa’s 99 counties,” it continues.
Meanwhile, Buttigieg is playing up generational change. “It’s time to turn the page from a Washington experience paralyzed by the same old thinking, polarized by the same old fights, to a bold vision for the next generation,” Buttigieg says in the 30 second ad. In his final TV pitch, he calls for breaking “from the old politics” to unify the nation.
Andrew Yang made a similar argument. In his latest ad, released one week before the caucuses, he used a quote from one of the debates. “If you’re a parent you’ve had this thought: our kids are not alright,” Yang says.
And while Steyer is trailing in recent Iowa polls, Steyer is using momentum he’s seen other early state polls to help propel him across the finish line in the Hawkeye state.
Some candidates have not held back with their criticism of Democratic opponents on the trail in recent days, but there’s one commonality all of the candidates’ recent Iowa TV ads have had: They are not attacking each other.
“For the most part, there have been no direct attacks amongst each other,” said Mitchell West, senior analyst for Kantar/CMAG, which tracks television ads. “I thought they would have gone a little bit negative, but so far they have not.” According to Kantar/CMAG tracking, that was not the case with the large Republican fields heading into Iowa in 2012 and 2016.
Several outside groups have paid for ads criticizing specific candidates, but Democratic presidential candidates’ TV ads themselves have all zeroed in on the same foe: President Trump.
Mr. Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, hasn’t really focused on TV ads in Iowa, although he did hold a rally in Des Moines on Thursday. Mr. Trump has two longshot challengers, former Masscahusetts Governor Bill Weld and former Congressman Joe Walsh, in the race for the Republican nomination. Mr. Trump’s campaign is dispatching 80 surrogates to caucus sites around the state on Monday.
Adam Brewster contributed reporting from Iowa.