The race to take over retiring Senator Rob Portman’s seat in Ohio has quickly become the most expensive Senate race of 2022 we discovered through a political spend analysis. After Portman announced retirement plans in January 2021, we saw over $74.5M spent on advertisements regarding the OH Senate Primary. This is over forty times the amount of spending we recorded leading up to the 2018 OH Senate Primary ($1.68M) and over four times the amount we recorded leading up to the 2018 OH Senate General Election ($16.6M). 

We documented spending from a total of 31 Advertisers across broadcast, cable, radio, satellite, and digital media types. 21 Issue Groups, spending $32.8M, and 10 Candidates, spending $41.7M, put money in the OH Senate Primary. The candidate who spent the most throughout the primary cycle was Mike Gibbons who has dropped $13.6M since April 2021. Gibbons’ ads express his support of conservative values and attacked fellow candidates Timken and Vance for raising taxes. Issue Group Protect Ohio Values, a PAC supporting JD Vance has spent the most out of any issue group, dropping $10.5M during the Primary Election cycle. 

We saw $54.8M on broadcast, $13.7M on cable, $2.8M on radio, $2.4M on digital, and $818K on satellite. Candidates outspent issue groups on broadcast, cable, and digital, whereas issue groups outspent candidates on radio and satellite media types. We also recorded $10.3M in spending on CTV devices from 15 different advertisers. 

The high-profile OH Senate GOP primary is an example of one of the 2022 midterms in which former President Trump is testing his influence of the Republican party through endorsements. Trump has already endorsed nearly 130 candidates for offices in 2022 such as Senate, House, Secretaries of State, as well as Gubernatorial and State House and Senate candidates. The first primary of the year, taking place in Texas, proved the power behind Trump’s endorsements. All 33 candidates that Trump backed won their race or are headed to runoffs.  

With this track record, the seven GOP candidates for the vacant Ohio Senate seat were vying for Trump’s seal of approval. Before his endorsement hit the press, advertisers released creatives that described candidates being more “Pro-Trump” than their counterparts in an effort to gain Trump’s approval. Mike Gibbons self-described as “Trump tough” in an advertisement that aired between April 6 and April 17 and Shelby County Republican Party spent $400K on an ad that labelled Josh Mandel as a “strong supporter of Trump’s America First policy.” Taking the opposite approach, issue group Buckeyes for a Strong Ohio spent almost $500K on an advertisement that aired from April 2-April 13 that attacked Jane Timken and JD Vance for not being in support of Trump. The emphasis on Trump revealed the perceived power that his endorsement had on the election. 

On April 15, Trump announced he would endorse J.D. Vance for the OH Senate seat. Before Trump’s endorsement, Vance was far behind in the polls, but has since become a front runner in more recent surveys. JD Vance was the seventh largest spender with $1.7M throughout the primary cycle. Vance’s campaign hadn’t spent any money through April of 2022; however, on April 4, about ten days before receiving the endorsement, Vance booked over $800K for the month of April.  

While spending from issue groups in support of Vance had been steadily outpacing spending against Vance through March, once the news of the endorsement came out, we saw Anti-Vance ads skyrocket, specifically from Republican advertisers. In the first week of April, creatives started airing attacking Vance for not supporting Trump enough. Issue Group Club for Growth Action had been airing negative ads towards Vance, such as this ad that shows Vance calling himself a “never Trump guy,” and continued to after the endorsement came out. Issue Group Protect Ohio Values dropped $4.3M of their overall $10.5M spending in the past month, beginning around the time that Vance received the endorsement.  

Political Spend Analysis

Advertisers spent in 15 different markets across a total of four states. Republican advertisers took control of every market, outspending Democrat advertisers by about 15 times. The Cleveland-Akron market saw the most spending at $20.9M. Other markets that saw high spending numbers included Columbus ($17.9M), Cincinnati ($13.4M), and Dayton ($7.5M).  

With Vance leading the most recent polls before the May 3 Primary, the power of Trump’s endorsements on the Republican party will be put to the test. We will continue to run political spend analysis' for the Ohio Senate race through the general election in November.  

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