Former President Donald Trump’s new super PAC is hitting the airwaves backing GOP Senate candidates in five key races. But his paid media efforts are unlikely to reach as many viewers as the campaigns and even some other outside groups.
The large ad buys from MAGA Inc. are a momentum boost for GOP candidates in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and Arizona — several of whom won competitive primaries earlier this year after being endorsed by Trump but have struggled since then with fundraising and in the polls. Republicans are hoping that victories in at least three of those five states will help them regain control of the U.S. Senate.
But the Trump-linked super PAC is entering saturated TV markets in each state, where the hotly contested races have already attracted major cash from campaigns and other outside groups. The latest buys also come at the moment when political TV advertising is most expensive — particularly for super PACs, which already pay higher rates than candidates.
For example, in the Columbus, Ohio, market MAGA Inc. booked $425,000 in spending this week, which translates to a bit more than 800 gross rating points on broadcast TV — a measure of how many people see ads, according to AdImpact. Ryan’s campaign spent only $336,000 in the same market, but that bought them just shy of 1,200 gross rating points.
The way that price disparity adds up is clear from the ad contracts. On a local NBC affiliate in Cleveland, the Trump-linked super PAC is paying $1,200 to run a single 30-second ad on the Sunday morning news between 7 and 8 a.m., according to a contract filed with the Federal Communications Commission, where TV stations are required to report political advertising.
Ryan’s campaign also has an ad set to run on Sunday morning, filings show — and his campaign paid only $420 for the same length ad in the same time slot.
On the same channel, the Ryan campaign has paid only $110 per 30-second ad on The Kelly Clarkson Show. MAGA Inc. is paying $400 for ads of that length on the show.
Many factors affect television advertising rates. Federal law requires stations to charge the lowest unit rate to campaigns within 60 days of a general election.
But candidate rates matter less in ad slots that are already quite expensive. In the Columbus market this weekend, FCC filings show that both MAGA Inc. and the Ryan campaign are paying $20,000 each to run a single 30-second ad when the Cincinnati Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens in Sunday Night Football.
So far, MAGA Inc. has put down more than $4 million on TV ads, according to AdImpact, including at least $1.2 million in Ohio and more than $1 million in Arizona. The group could add more as the election nears, although a spokesperson said on Thursday that the group did not want to telegraph where its future spending might go.
Trump’s leadership PAC, Save America, has a massive war chest with more than $90 million cash on hand as of the end of August. As a super PAC, MAGA Inc. can also raise unlimited funds from other sources, or it can take transfers from Save America.
While the ad buys represent a notable investment from the former president, they still account for a relatively small share of ads running in the five states. The Mitch McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund still has more money invested in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia and Nevada than Trump’s group for now.
That super PAC and others on both sides also face the high rates that stations can charge at this time of great demand. But Trump’s is the latest to highlight just how much it can cost outside groups to play in the weeks before an election.
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