Written by Ethan Mort

Tonight, five Republican candidates will return to the stage for the third Presidential Primary debate. The debate will be hosted at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County and will be broadcast by NBC News at 8 PM ET.  The Republican National Committee determined that five candidates met the polling, donor, and pledge requirements necessary to qualify for this debate: Ron DeSantis, Vivek Ramaswamy, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, and Chris Christie. Doug Burgum qualified for the last two debates, but did not qualify for tonight’s debate. Mike Pence, another participant in the last two debates, suspended his campaign last month.  Despite meeting the donor and polling requirements, former President Donald Trump announced that he would not attend any debates. It is unclear as to whether he signed the pledge to back the eventual winner of the GOP primary. 

a bar chart showing debate qualified gop candidates' spending

Overall, Republican advertisers have placed $194M in total spending reservations. So far, $167M worth of ads have aired. This marks 35% more than Democratic advertisers spent in the 2020 Presidential primary before November 9th, 2019. The early primary states of Iowa ($64M) and New Hampshire ($37M) have seen most of this year’s spending, and $53M is reserved for national buys. A big shakeup in spending for the primary is that DeSantis now has the most ad spending and reservation of any candidate with $43M, overtaking Scott. Last month, pro-Scott PAC, Trust in the Mission cut $14M across Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Since the debate last month, the candidate with the highest increase in spending and reservation support was Haley with $13M added. 

The economy continues to be the most mentioned issue in GOP primary TV advertising. Since the last debate, immigration has risen to sixth. Pro-Trump, Scott, and DeSantis advertisers have driven this. Additionally, ads about National Security have joined the top ten most common issues, driven by Pro-Burgum advertisers.  

Ron DeSantis

Florida Governor DeSantis has maintained his second-place status across most polls, and now he commands the most ad support behind him, at $43.1M. Pro-DeSantis group, Never Back Down makes up 91% of all Pro-DeSantis spending. Pro-DeSantis advertisers have targeted four early primary states, with $18.6M in Iowa, $8.6M in New Hampshire, $3.7M in South Carolina, $630K in Nevada, and $11M on national broadcast and cable. DeSantis has seen more ad support on digital advertising than any other candidate, with $2.9M spent across Facebook and Google. This is $1.3M more than Trump, who is second. Since the last debate, pro-DeSantis advertisers have released several new broadcast ads, including several that attack other candidates. This Never Back Down ad goes on the attack against Trump, despite never mentioning or showing the former President. Never Back Down has launched multiple attacks against Haley, amid her rise in the polls. This Never Back Down ad alleges Haley "welcomed Chinese companies to South Carolina", with another ad accusing Haley of being “politically correct” for caring about Palestinian citizens. Outside of ads attacking the other candidates, pro-DeSantis advertisers have focused on the border and crime, with one notable ad mocking Kamala Harris by featuring clips of her pledging the border is secure while the ad alleges it is not.

Donald Trump

Former President Trump continues to lead GOP primary polls and has seen $39.5M total ad support, the second most of any GOP candidate. Most pro-Trump spending comes from MAGA Inc., which has spent $31.6M. Since the last debate, MAGA Inc. has made huge investments in Iowa. At the time of the last debate, 80% of pro-Trump spending was on national buys, now that number is 58%, with Iowa making up 33% of all pro-Trump spending. Trump has also spent in New Hampshire.  Since the last debate, MAGA Inc. has aired four different broadcast ads. Two discuss crime, blaming Biden for “creating a border crisis”, as one ad promises Trump will declare war on the cartels, and the other ad suggests Trump will implement the death penalty for human trafficking. Another MAGA Inc. ad goes on the attack against DeSantis, detailing how DeSantis sponsored a resolution to make Puerto Rico a state, a move the ad alleges would give Democrats two more Senators. MAGA Inc. most recently released an ad on October 14th, discussing the ongoing conflict in Israel and tying the crisis to Biden’s policies.  

Tim Scott

Since the last debate, the pro-Tim Scott group, Trust in the Mission, canceled all of their Fall reservations, cutting $14M across Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Despite this, pro-Scott advertisers still have the most future ad reservations at this moment at $11.2M, nearly $5M higher than the next highest candidate has in ad support. Additionally, Scott maintains the spending advantage in Iowa, with $23M in ad support and reservations in the state, $5M more than the second-placed DeSantis. Since the last debate, pro-Scott advertisers have released multiple ads covering a wide range of issues from illegal immigration to gender issues. A notable Scott ad covers a litany of social issues with Scott stating "rogue adults are changing kids' genders behind parents' back. Planned Parenthood is performing abortions on teenage girls in secret". Another Scott ad features the candidate at the border wall as he talks about drugs being smuggled across the border. The most recent Scott ad highlights his faith. 

Nikki Haley 

Former South Carolina Governor and United States Ambassador to the United Nations Haley is on the rise in both the polls and spending. She has begun to threaten DeSantis’ second place position in the race and has seen her total ad support double to $26M since the second debate. Haley and Christie are the only debate-qualified candidates to not have any candidate spending on traditional media. Instead, the pro-Haley PAC, Stand for America Fund (SFA Fund), makes up all of Haley’s ad support on traditional media. Haley has the most ad support in New Hampshire at $12.1M and the third most ad support in Iowa at $13.4M. With Never Back Down taking shots at Haley, SFA Fund is also hitting DeSantis. One SFA ad claims "Ron DeSantis can't stop lying about Nikki Haley...he's lying because he's losing" and accuses him of supporting China. Another SFA ad begins with “poor Ron DeSantis, he's losing, he's lying” and features clips of Sean Hannity clarifying that Haley does not support accepting Palestinian refugees. When SFA is not wading into a fight with DeSantis, their ads feature Haley talking about the border and the ongoing crisis in Israel, and term limits in Congress.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has seen $6.8M in total ad support from his campaign and his PAC, American Exceptionalism. Over a quarter of pro-Ramaswamy spending is on digital ads, with $1.6M spent. Pro-Ramaswamy advertisers have also spent $3.2M on ads in Iowa, $2M in New Hampshire, and $1.5M across national broadcast and cable. Ramaswamy’s recent ads have featured his closing remarks from the first debate Ramaswamy talking about gender, border, and poverty.  Another ad uses the same speech but without the backdrop of the first debate. Previously, Ramaswamy released an ad in support of Trump in the face of his indictments, as another ad touts Ramaswamy’s position of shutting down the FBI. 

Chris Christie

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has seen $3M in total ad support from his campaign and his PAC, Tell It Like It Is. Christie is the only debate-qualified candidate 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 ($400K) and in New Hampshire ($2.5M). A recent Tell It Like It Is ad mentions his bipartisan work overlaid with Reagan quotes and clips. Tell It Like It Is has attacked Trump in past ads, and has continued the trend in more recent ads. One ad questions whether Trump will be able to keep America safe in lieu of his personal issues, and another ad attacks both Trump and Biden or adding to the national debt. With Pence now out of the race, pro-Christie ads are the only ads supporting a Republican Presidential candidate that openly names and attacks Trump. 

Those Not Qualified for the Debate

Tonight’s stage has shrunk from the last debate. Doug Burgum failed to meet the criteria to qualify for the debate and Mike Pence dropped out. Pro-Burgum advertisers have spent $20M, and Pro-Pence advertisers spent $533K before he dropped out. Although never qualifying for any debate, Perry Johnson ($3.8M) Will Hurd ($928K in ad support), and Larry Elder ($290K) also dropped out of the primary last month. Ryan Binkley ($2.3M) and Asa Hutchinson ($118K) remain in the race despite never qualifying for this debate.  The Republican field will likely continue to narrow following the third debate.

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