Bloomberg's TV Ad Blitz Buries Democrats in California

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Michael Bloomberg

The former New York mayor has spent a whopping $63.2 million on ads in the March 3 primary state, far outpacing rivals.

On Feb. 19, during a heated Democratic primary debate in Nevada hosted by NBC News, Michael Bloomberg got a now infamous question from moderator Chuck Todd: "Should you exist?"

"I can't speak for all billionaires," Bloomberg replied. "All I know is I've been very lucky, made a lot of money, and I'm giving it all away to make this country better. And a good chunk of it goes to the Democratic Party, as well."

Ahead of the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries in 14 states, the billionaire candidate has dramatically outspent the rest of the Democratic candidates in campaign advertisements. Since entering the race Nov. 24, Bloomberg has forgone individual donations, self-funded his campaign and gone on a national staff-hiring spree. 

In California, the single biggest delegate prize with 416, Bloomberg has already spent $63.2 million in TV ads across cable, broadcast and satellite as of Feb. 24, per Advertising Analytics, which tracks candidate spending.

To compare, the only candidate who's in the same ballpark is fellow billionaire candidate Tom Steyer, who has spent $27.2 million on television ads in California, or less than half of what Bloomberg is spending, the research firm finds. Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has spent just $6.3 million in TV ads in the state so far. 

“Bloomberg, Sanders, and Steyer are the only three candidates on air in California," notes Rachel Haskins, marketing manager at Advertising Analytics. "We can’t say if the campaigns have adjusted their spending because of Bloomberg’s totals, but Steyer has been spending in California since December 8, and Sanders went up on January 26, even before the Iowa caucuses."

Haskins added, "In 2016, Sanders didn’t hit the airwaves until May 1 — a month before the June 3 CA primary. Sanders has also spent $6.3 million on TV in California since January; in 2016, he spent $1.8 million in the state.” Others who've spent relatively negligible amounts on TV ads in California include Rep. Tulsi Gabbard ($73,704 last July) and former candidate Sen. Cory Booker ($1,500 on cable in December), per Advertising Analytics. 

While Bloomberg is dominating linear airwaves, political spending on Facebook in California is less lopsided. The Bloomberg campaign has spent $5.8 million on Facebook ads in the state, ahead of Steyer ($4.6 million), Sanders ($1.5 million), Mayor Pete Buttigieg ($668,889), Senator Elizabeth Warren ($623,769), former Vice President Joe Biden ($420,183) and Senator Amy Klobuchar ($202,348), according to Advertising Analytics' tally through Feb. 20. 

The former New York mayor's camp has also aggressively courted Hollywood figures to back him in the campaign, and Michael Douglas, Ted Danson, Clint Eastwood and Barbra Streisand have praised Bloomberg. Among California politicos, Bloomberg is touting the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Pete Aguilar, who was named congressional co-chair for his campaign Feb. 20.

But Bloomberg's biggest industry backer may be Judge Judy. Some 14 percent of Americans indicated that a Bloomberg endorsement by Judge Judy Sheindlin would make them more likely to vote for the candidate, a nationally representative Hollywood Reporter/Morning Consult poll found early this month. (That's compared with 16 percent of Americans who said Ariana Grande's endorsement of Bernie Sanders would make them more likely to vote for the Vermont senator and 11 percent of U.S. adults who said the same of Kevin Costner's support of Buttigieg.) 

Judy has recorded an ad for Bloomberg as well as appeared on The View to talk up the endorsement and on the campaign trail. Other advertisements, like "Steady Leadership" (490,000 views on YouTube), that have run on cable news programs in California have touted Bloomberg's ties to former President Obama. 

Despite his advertising blitz, Bloomberg is trailing in California support. Senator Sanders leads the field with 27.9 percent, while Bloomberg garners 14.7 percent, ahead of Biden (12.9 percent), Warren (12.4 percent), Buttigieg (11 percent), Klobuchar (5.6 percent) and Steyer (3.2 percent), per Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight state poll average