Written by Nate Schwartz

The weeks leading up to the Philadelphia Mayoral primary election have been hotly contested, with five candidates posting strong polling numbers going into election day. According to a recent poll, five candidates were polling between 14%-18% with 20% of respondents undecided late last month. 

With such a close election, ad spending from candidates and issue groups has picked up throughout the spring. The $21.8M spent in the Philadelphia mayoral primary ranks as the second most expensive election of 2023, trailing only the WI Supreme Court general ($30.1M).

Current Philadelphia City Council member Allan Domb is the top spending advertiser. His $8.8M expenditure makes up 41% of all this election's spending. He has primarily spent on broadcast ads, where he has reserved $6.0M. Domb has aired 18 different ads leading up to the election, with other airings focusing on crime and education. His top three aired ads highlight interviews with local Philadelphia residents.

While Domb is the top spender, four other candidates have reserved over $1M for ads. Overall, candidates have spent $15.9M in the election, while issue groups have spent $5.5M. Here’s a look at candidate spending leading up to election day.

Behind Domb, Jeff Brown’s $3.4M in ad spending is over $1.3M ahead of the next highest spending advertiser. Brown’s ad presence is similar to Domb, as the Brown campaign has aired 16 unique ads so far. No other advertiser has aired more than 6 unique ads. Eighty percent of Brown’s ad spend has been on broadcast, the highest mark for any candidate. 

Brown, owner of Philadelphia grocery store chain Brown’s Super Stores, has an ad strategy focused around crime and infrastructure. His highest airing ad discusses all the police endorsements he’s received. His other biggest issue, infrastructure, revolves around his campaign slogan “Pick up the damn trash.” The controversial slogan has been included in his ads and appears on signs throughout the city.

Additionally, two groups have aired ads about Helen Gym. Gym, who has spent $1.4M on ads herself, has endorsements from progressives such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. With only two unique ads, her ad content has included a large variety of issues she wants to focus on. An issue group supporting Gym, Fighting Together for Philadelphia, has spent $1.1M on ads discussing how she will make the city safer. More controversially, the Coalition for Safety & Equitable Growth has aired ads about Gym’s previous voting record with a potential conflict of interest, to which Gym responded by sending a cease-and-desist to every Philadelphia broadcast station.

Finally, two other candidates have spent significant money on ads in the primary: Rebecca Rhynhart and Cherelle Parker. They both boast endorsements from previous Philadelphia mayors. Rhynhart has spent $1.3M across four media types, with $992K on broadcast. Her highest airing ad displays her endorsements from two former Philadelphia mayors and the Philadelphia Inquirer. Meanwhile, current Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney voted for Cherelle Parker in the primary. Parker has spent $768K so far, with 75% of it on broadcast. Parker’s campaign is airing ads about crime, but also expanding mental healthcare and holding cops accountable.

Three issue groups have spent more than $1M on ads: Philadelphians for Our Future PAC, For A Better Philadelphia PAC, and the previously mentioned Fighting Together for Philadelphia. Philadelphians for Our Future PAC is supporting Cherelle Parker while For A Better Philadelphia PAC is supporting Jeff Brown. A Better Philadelphia PAC has just one unique ad, which highlights a positive comment about Brown from Michele Obama.

Bar chart showing Philadelphia mayoral spending

Despite a $10M advantage in candidate spending over group spending, cable expenditure between the two advertiser types is similar. Cable makes up 25% of all issue group ad expenditures, compared to just 11% from candidates. Candidates have instead relied on broadcast, where 71% of their ad spending went compared to 58% from issue groups.

With election day around the corner, everything is still up in the air. A close field and a competitive ad landscape has made the Philadelphia mayoral primary one of the most interesting elections of 2023. 

Interested in another mayoral deep dive? Check out our Jacksonville mayoral deep dive blog, as the Jacksonville general runoff election is also on Tuesday.

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