The two billionaires running in the Democratic primary have taken vastly different approaches in utilizing their fortunes to try to win the presidency. Michael Bloomberg is certainly spending at a much higher rate than Tom Steyer, booking $57.5M in ads from 11/25-12/4, compared to the $60MSteyer has spent since July. However, this is far from their only difference in strategy. Bloomberg is almost entirely bypassing the early states while Steyer is almost entirely invested in all four. About 3% of Bloomberg’s spending has come in early states, compared to 86% of Steyer’s spending. Steyer’s strategy has been to raise his profile in the early states with a concentrated media barrage, allowing him to qualify for the debates and hopefully build momentum into super Tuesday. On the other hand, Bloomberg has decided to totally bypass the early states and make a major play for the super Tuesday and beyond states. He has also so far said that he will not accept donations, effectively eliminating him from debate contention unless the DNC changes its qualification criteria.
Looking at maps of their spending by state, the differing strategies are clear. Outside of national programming buys, Steyer has spent exclusively in the four early states, while Bloomberg is targeting delegate rich states. Some have characterized it as a “Super Tuesday” buy. And while it is perhaps especially heavy on these states, Bloomberg’s buy does put a considerable amount of weight in delegate rich New York and Florida, which come after Super Tuesday. Such a large budget also allows for the luxury of targeting large, but not top tier states such as Oregon, Minnesota, and Missouri. There is a chance he will be uncontested on the airwaves in some of these states, and that is a tremendous advantage. While these states do not have nearly as many delegates as California or Texas, their delegate counts are still substantial.
While Steyer’s spending has been one of the top stories of the election, Bloomberg essentially caught up with him in only two weeks. Steyer has been averaging about $2.7M per week. Bloomberg is currently spending more than that per day. If he were to continue this rate of spending until Super Tuesday, the former mayor would spend approximately another $300M. $100M per month would certainly be an unprecedented level of spending and would make it functionally impossible for anyone to even compete with him in terms of advertising.
Another factor to consider is the level of earned media generated by such a massive buy. Even if you haven’t seen the ads, you’ve seen coverage of them online or on the news. This is perhaps worth nearly as much as the paid advertising itself. Anecdotally, it seems as though no other candidate’s entrance to the race has been covered so breathlessly, regardless of whether the coverage has been positive or negative. Tom Steyer generated considerable coverage by qualifying for the debates, but has also opened himself up to attacks by participating , Bloomberg potentially avoids direct attacks by side stepping the debates completely.
It will be fascinating to see what success Bloomberg’s media blitz brings. It is a risky strategy, but one that is perhaps necessary for a candidate entering the race so latet with such unprecedent resources to blanket the airwaves with advertising. Rather than risking disappointment in the early states and in the debates, Bloomberg will attempt to put his message directly in front of voters via advertising Whether or not he is successful, Bloomberg will certainly go down in history for his risky strategy and the massive sums of money he is prepared to spend chasing the nomination.