August 23, 2023
Written by Ethan Mort and Henry Long
After months of campaigning, the Republican National Committee determined that eight candidates have met the polling, donor, and pledge requirements for tonight’s first GOP Presidential Primary Debate in Milwaukee, which will air on Fox News. Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Doug Burgum, and Asa Hutchinson have all met the polling and donor requirements to be qualified to attend the debate. Despite meeting the donor and poll requirements, former President Donald Trump announced that he will not be attending any debates. It is unclear as to whether he signed the pledge to back the eventual winner of the GOP primary. Overall, Republican advertisers have placed $137M in spending reservations. So far, $91.7M of ads have aired. This is 61% more than Democratic advertisers spent in the 2020 Presidential primary before August 23, 2019. The early primary states of Iowa ($29M) and New Hampshire ($17M) have seen most of that spending. Scott has seen the most total ad support and reservation of any candidate with $49.6M.
The economy emerged as the most common issue mentioned in GOP primary TV advertising. Ads supporting Trump and Burgum have focused on economic issues such as Medicare, Social Security, inflation, the national debt, and economic growth. Ads for DeSantis, Scott, and Ramaswamy have centered on social issues. Alternatively, ads supporting Christie and Pence have attacked Trump’s candidacy, while Haley’s PAC has released ads highlighting her tenure as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations.
South Carolina Senator Tim Scott currently leads the field in total ad reservation support, with $49.6M. Following this week’s debate, pro-Scott advertisers already have $37.0M booked for the future. Trust in the Mission PAC has placed ad reservations through January 2024, making it the first advertiser to reserve 2024 airtime. Scott has seen the most total ad support in the first three primary states, with $28M in Iowa, $17M in New Hampshire, and $4M in his home state of South Carolina. Many of Scott’s ads focus on his personal background and draw a contrast between his candidacy and Joe Biden's.
Former President Donald Trump currently leads GOP primary polls and has seen $25.5M total ad support, the second most of any GOP candidate. Trump’s support has largely come from MAGA Inc., who has spent $23M. Unlike other candidates, the vast majority of pro-Trump spending is on national cable, making up over 80% of his total ad support. Advertisers supporting Trump have mostly avoided discussing social issues in their ads. Instead, they have focused on Social Security and Medicare, releasing ten unique ads targeting those two issues. Nine of those ads attack Ron DeSantis, accusing him of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare. MAGA Inc. also attacked DeSantis on his tax policies, labeling the governor as “Ron De-Salestax" in their most aired ad. While DeSantis is the only Republican candidate that pro-Trump ads have targeted, they have already launched ads attacking President Joe Biden ahead of a potential November 2024 rematch. These ads have attacked the President on his handling of classified documents, his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings, his indictments of Trump, his withdrawal from Afghanistan, and inflation. Despite his lead in the polls, former President Trump has elected not to participate in tonight’s debate.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has seen $19.8M in total ad support between his campaign and his PAC, Never Back Down. The two advertisers have targeted four early primary states, with $5.5M in Iowa, $2M in New Hampshire, $3.7M in South Carolina, and $630K in Nevada. Pro-DeSantis advertisers lead the field in digital spending, with $2.5M spent across Facebook and Google. DeSantis’s early ads celebrated his roles in key social issues, highlighting his attacks on the media, corporations, and critical race theory. Recent Never Back Down ads have seemingly gone in a new direction, with two recent ads focusing on his personal background and military service. Never Back Down also released ads in Iowa and New Hampshire attacking Trump for criticizing Governors Kim Reynolds and Chris Sununu. The group’s use of an AI-generated Trump impersonation was scrutinized.
North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has seen $10.8M in total ad support from his campaign and his PAC, Best of America. Like other candidates, pro-Burgum advertisers have focused their spending on the early primary states of Iowa ($5.3M) and New Hampshire ($4.4M). Burgum and his PAC have also spent $546K on radio ads, the most in support of any candidate. In his most aired ad, Burgum mentions his first priority as President would be to fix this “crazy economy”. His campaign ads mainly mention the economy, energy, and the military. Burgum has also directly attacked Biden, launching attack ads accusing the President of shutting down oil and gas production. Pro-Burgum advertisers have spent $2M on digital advertisements. Burgum recently had a large digital ad push promoting his “Donate $1 and receive a $20 Gift Card!” campaign, which helped him meet the 40,000 unique donors threshold to qualify for tonight’s debate stage.
Former South Carolina Governor and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has seen $9.8M in total ad support from her campaign and her PAC, Stand for America. Pro-Haley advertisers have spent $5M in Iowa and $4.3M in New Hampshire. Haley was the first candidate to officially announce her campaign but was one of the last candidates to see ad support on traditional media, with the first TV ad airing on July 31st. Next to Scott, Haley has seen the second-most prebooked spending behind her with $6M reserved through October. All of Haley’s ads focus on China and foreign policy, touting her experience as Ambassador to the United Nations.
Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has seen $2.6M in total ad support from his campaign and his PAC, American Exceptionalism. Over half of pro-Ramaswamy spending is on digital ads, with $1.6M spent. Pro-Ramaswamy advertisers have also spent $472K on ads in Iowa and $1M on ads in New Hampshire. Ramaswamy and Chris Christie are the only two debate-qualified candidates to have more ad support in New Hampshire than Iowa. Ramaswamy recently released two ads: one serving as an introduction to his position on a variety of social issues and the other supporting Trump in the face of his indictments. American Exceptionalism PAC recently released their first ad, which discusses Ramaswamy’s upbringing as “son of immigrant parents seeking the American dream.”
Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has seen $700K in total ad support from his campaign and his PAC, Tell It Like It Is. Christie and Hutchinson are the only debate-qualified candidates to not have any traditional ad support in Iowa. Instead, Christie’s campaign and Tell It Like It Is PAC have placed ad buys nationally ($220K) and in New Hampshire ($441K). Tell It Like It Is PAC has aired three ads on cable, all attacking Trump. One ad directly calls out Trump for skipping tonight’s debate.
Former Vice President Mike Pence has seen $500K in total ad support from his campaign and his PAC, Committed to America. The two advertisers have oriented their spending efforts primarily towards Iowa, which has seen 68% of their total spending. Pence and Asa Hutchinson are the only debate-qualified candidates to not have any ad support in New Hampshire. Pence is also one of the few candidates in the primary to go on the attack against Trump. One Committed to America PAC ad attacks Trump over the Jan 6th insurrection and another calls out Trump’s closeness with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung Un.
Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson was the last candidate to qualify for the debate and has seen $115K in total ad support between his campaign and his PAC, America Strong and Free. Hutchinson is the only debate-qualified candidate to not see any traditional ad support in either Iowa or New Hampshire. Instead, Hutchinson’s campaign and his PAC have spent $115K on national cable and digital buys. America Strong and Free’s only ad shows a clip of Ronald Reagan celebrating Hutchinson and encourages donations.
And Those Not Qualified for the Debate
Other than Trump, not all Republican Presidential candidates managed to meet the criteria needed to qualify the debate. We’ve tracked $9M in ad spending supporting candidates who did not qualify for the debate (excluding Trump). Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has seen the most ad support among these candidates, at $3.7M. Perry Johnson ($2.9M) and Ryan Binkley ($1.9) are right behind Suarez. Interested in exploring the differences between ad spending in the 2020 and 2024 Presidential races? Check out our article comparing early spending in the two races.