Written by Nate Schwartz

As the political cycle starts to pick up across the nation, two Senate seats are already nearing primary crunch time. Although there are a handful of Senate races set to see hundreds of millions in political ad spending through November, there are a few that are already seeing heightened ad expenditure for their primaries.

Two Senate seats on either end of the country, California and Maryland, are each rated Solid Democrat by Cook Political Report. Their primaries are among the most expensive Senate elections thus far in 2024.

a bar chart showing Democratic Senate spending

California’s primary has seen the most spending of all Senate primaries so far, netting $21.8M more than the next closest election. The spending landscape has been dominated by ads supporting current CA CD-30 rep Adam Schiff, which is almost more than the entirety of Ohio’s Senate primary spending. His $28.2M in ad support is largely from his own campaign, making up 87% of the total. According to Politico, Schiff had $35M in cash-on-hand in January, which was more than double any other Senate candidate in the country.

CA CD-47 rep Katie Porter has seen the second most ad support in the primary election but has also seen significant opposition spending. Fairshake, an independent group, has spent $5.4M against Porter’s candidacy and $1.3M across the country in various House races. Barbara Lee has seen $1.3M in ad support, propelled by $1.2M from her PAC, She Speaks for Me.

Messaging in the California primary election has been largely positive among the Democratic candidates. Outside of Fairshake’s negative ads against Porter, all other ads in the election have either been positive ads about the candidates or contrast ads.

Compared to previous contentious Democratic Senate primaries in 2022 such as Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, there is a lack of negative ads in California. In those three primaries, Democratic advertisers aired positive ads 42% of the time, contrast ads 20% of the time, and negative ads 38% of the time. In this year’s California primary, Democratic advertisers have aired 56% positive ads, 34% contrast ads, and only 10% negative ads.

Schiff’s top airing ad contrasts his policies with Republican candidate Steve Garvey. Garvey has yet to air any ads in the election but is currently tied with Porter for second in a recent poll. Schiff’s second top airing ad is a positive ad about himself, as both of the top airing ads heavily focus on Donald Trump and affordable housing.

Meanwhile, Porter’s top ad focuses on her Congressional accomplishments, focusing on keeping executives accountable. She Speaks for Me’s top airing ad highlights Barbara Lee’s character.

On the other side of the country, Maryland’s Senate primary has seen $22.8M, with a higher percentage of the total election expenditure coming from one candidate than California. David Trone, the current MD CD-06 rep, has spent $22.5M of the $22.8M total in the primary. Two other candidates have spent in the election: Robin Ficker (R) and Angela Alsobrooks (D). Ficker has spent $170K on cable and digital and Alsobrooks has spent $139K across broadcast, cable, and digital.

For the Democratic airings in the primary, Trone has 14,168 ad airings compared to Alsobrooks’ 64. All of these airings are positive about the candidates themselves. Trone’s top airing ad mentions his economic policies to help families. His other ads focus on criminal justice reform, education, and abortion. Alsobrooks’ lone ad focuses on her youth compared to other Senators and the work she’s accomplished as a county executive.

These Democratic primaries have been less negative than some in years past, but they are still seeing high amounts of ad spending. With California’s primary date on Super Tuesday and Maryland’s in mid-May, these elections will continue to see ad expenditure come in as there’s still ample time to fill the airwaves. Stay tuned for our upcoming blog analyzing important Republican Senate primaries in Ohio, Montana, and West Virginia.

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