After relying exclusively on digital ads and direct mail in the third quarter of 2015, the Bernie Sanders campaign released its first television ad Sunday.
The $2 million ad buy will air in the unsurprising markets of New Hampshire and Iowa. Sanders currently leads the national frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, in New Hampshire, the state adjacent to (and most easily confused with) Sanders’ home state of Vermont, where he is serving his second term as U.S. senator after 16 years as a member of the House of Representatives.
The ad is a typical getting-to-know-you spot detailing Sanders’ youth in Brooklyn, his work during the civil rights movement, his move to and popularity in Vermont, and his progressive Senate record. The voiceover includes some thinly-veiled shots at Clinton’s positions on the Iraq War and Wall Street excess, portraying him as the anti-establishment choice for liberals who have worries about Clinton’s honesty.
Until now, Sanders has focused on a combination of in-person events and digital ads to raise money and build grassroots support, a strategy most effective at recruiting the millennials often missed by more traditional avenues. The campaign spent over $2.5 million on digital ads in Q3 and a relatively minor $113,000 on direct mailings, as well as a paltry $5,428.05 for "media advertising."
The move to television likely signals a shift toward targeting older, less liberal voters who show up to the polls more reliably than their younger counterparts. The spot also ends with a traditional "husband, father, grandfather" appeal, a stark contrast to the unapologetic liberal firebrand image Sanders normally cultivates.
In comparison, the Clinton campaign spent $3.38 million on media advertising in the third quarter, as well as $2.65 million on digital ads and $2.5 million on direct marketing. However, political action committees have also spent $2.3 million on ads attacking Clinton, while Sanders has only had to weather $10,000 worth of ads fueled by outside money.
Sanders overtook Clinton in New Hampshire back in August, but after the first Democratic debate on October 13, Clinton began to close the gap in the polls, cutting Sanders’ lead from nearly 10 points two weeks ago to less than 3. Political strategists say it’s hard to see a path to the nomination for the Sanders campaign that doesn’t include a win in either the Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire primary early next year.
The Sanders campaign is also trying to stem a recent slide in Iowa. The two candidates polled evenly there in mid-September, but Clinton has slowly pulled away since the week of the debate, jumping to a 20-point lead in the last week.
Clinton still leads in national polls by more than 20 points, but many of those polls don’t yet reflect Biden’s absence, and preliminary results seem to indicate that Sanders will pick up a large chunk of those supporters, though that still leaves him 15 points behind her.