Sanders outspends Clinton in Michigan primary ad war

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

A Flint-focused Democratic ad war between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is expected to intensify in the coming days following Tuesday’s multi-state primaries.

Through Sunday, Sanders had outspent Clinton in Michigan $1.2 million to $979,000 on television advertising, airing 675 more spots than Clinton in broadcast TV markets across the state, according to ad tracking data from Kantar Media.

In the Flint TV market, Sanders had aired nearly twice as many ads as Clinton — 597 to 304 — as the two Democratic contenders jockey for positioning over Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis. Both Clinton and Sanders are airing Flint-themed TV ads, but Sanders has ramped up the spending as he seeks to cut into Clinton’s urban voter base.

By next Tuesday’s primary, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network projects the $2.3 million spent so far by both Democratic and Republican candidates on TV ads to match the $6.4 million campaigns spent in the 2012 Republican presidential primary in Michigan.

“We’ll probably get close to that, if not exceed that,” said Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, which tracks ad spending. “Bernie and Hillary are just pouring money into that race.”

Coming off the Super Tuesday contests, the Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls turn their sights on Michigan, which has the biggest haul of delegates at stake of the three states voting on March 8.

For the Republicans, 59 Michigan delegates are at stake in the hunt for the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.

Sanders and Clinton will be vying for 148 delegates at stake in the state in their battle for the 2,383 needed to win the Democratic Party’s nomination.

But their campaign schedules and TV advertising show different tactics at play.

In addition to his heavy TV presence, Sanders is expected to draw a big crowd Wednesday night for a rally at the 14,759-seat Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University.

Clinton has no events planned in Michigan this week until she and Sanders meet Sunday night in Flint for a debate at Whiting Auditorium on the campus of the University of Michigan-Flint.

On the Republican side, candidates and their supporters operating super political action committees have been slower than the Democratic candidates to buy TV airtime.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s campaign said Tuesday it had purchased a “significant” amount of air time in Michigan and the super PAC supporting him, New Day for America, began airing ads over the weekend in the Grand Rapids market. Both campaigns are focusing their ad messages on Kasich’s record of accomplishment in Ohio.

The pro-Kasich Super PAC and his campaign have reserved a combined $898,670 in air time through Tuesday, according to ad purchase tracking data obtained by The Detroit News.

Kasich will kick off a week-long campaign in Michigan Wednesday morning with a town hall event in Ann Arbor, followed by campaign events in Grand Blanc and Warren. Kasich is planning a Friday evening rally in Holland and campaign stops in Traverse City, Marquette and Birch Run on Saturday.

GOP presidential front runner Donald Trump isn’t scheduled to visit Michigan until Thursday, when the GOP candidates debate at Detroit’s Fox Theatre.

Trump has events planned Friday morning at the Macomb Community College Expo Center in Warren and an early afternoon rally in Cadillac.

Then Trump is scheduled to hold a Friday night rally in New Orleans in advance of Louisiana’s Saturday primary, followed by a mid-day Saturday rally in Orlando. The Florida Republican primary is a week after Michigan’s contest.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is holding a late Wednesday afternoon rally in Shelby Township. But he doesn’t appear to be staying in Michigan on Friday, with campaign events planned in Lexington, Kentucky; Wichita, Kansas; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Kentucky and Kansas have caucuses on Saturday.

Conservative Solutions, the super PAC supporting Rubio, had aired about $111,000 in ads through Sunday — the most of any Republican campaign, according to Kantar Media data analyzed by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“The Republicans have barely spent anything,” Mauger said. “The leading candidate (Trump) isn’t really buying ads. ... Rubio and Kasich are faced with the decision that if they’re down 20 points, is it really worth spending money?”

Campaigns routinely cancel and change TV ad placements in the final days of a campaign.

Conservative Solutions, which has focused its ads on attacking Trump, has reserved nearly $1 million in air time in Michigan through Tuesday’s primary, according to ad purchase tracking data obtained by The News.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has not yet announced any events in Michigan this week, nor has his campaign placed any ads here yet. But his campaign said he’ll be in Kansas on Wednesday for an evening rally.

Detroit native and famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson also has not divulged any campaign plans in his native state, but will be at Thursday night’s debate, Communications Director Larry Ross said Tuesday.

Carson plans to travel to Michigan Wednesday evening, spend Thursday preparing for debate and then will fly to Washington, D.C., Friday morning to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Ross said.

On Tuesday, Carson called for a meeting of the five candidates in Detroit before the debate to bring peace to a race marked by personal attacks between Trump, Cruz and Rubio in the past week. Trump has been hurling personal insults at other candidates throughout the campaign.

“I am confident that the five remaining candidates can rise above the sophomoric attacks of past encounters and have a serious discussion about substantive issues and how we will lead our nation forward toward a more prosperous and secure future,” Carson said in a statement.

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