News Center

May 13th, 2014

Republican U.S. Senate TV Guide

With Iowa’s primary just three weeks away, campaigns for the open U.S. Senate seat are getting heated.  It’s also that time of year when people are beginning to get inundated with TV and radio ads.  This is the time of the campaign when the most voters are paying attention, so let’s look that what the campaigns are saying to voters and how often they are saying it.

Businessman Mark Jacobs has been advertising on television for months.  Jacobs is currently running two different spots.  The first is an ad that addresses the third party ads that have run against him in recent weeks that focus on comments he made on a business call seven years again in which he spoke favorably about a cap and trade policy that was being discussed in congress.

Two groups, Trees of Liberty and the American Heartland PAC, have run over $320,823 in ads attacking Jacobs.  To put that number into perspective, that’s $100,000 more than the Ernst campaign has spent and reserved for the remainder of the primary.  The Jacobs campaign has responded with it’s own ad that features Jacobs speaking into the camera saying that he does not support cap and trade.

The Jacobs ad also takes a veiled shot at his primary competitor, State Senator Joni Ernst, who’s voting attendance record in the Iowa Senate has been an issue.  After addressing the cap and trade claim, Jacobs says, “What I will do is show up to work every day to fight for conservative values and Iowa jobs.

Jacobs isn’t the only one taking a subtle jab at the votes missed by Ernst this spring.  Democrat Congressman Bruce Braley’s first ad is entitled, “work.”  The ad ends with Braley’s mother saying, “I don’t ever remember him missing work.”  Again, it’s very subtle but telling that Ernst’s primary opponent and her potential opponent in the general election are both messaging on work ethic as her voting record has been scrutinized.

The other ad that the Jacobs campaign is currently running features two of his kids as well as his wife.  “Here’s the plan,” features Jacobs’ two youngest kids at a white board talking about his campaign.  Mixed in with serious things like repealing Obamacare, balancing the budget, and creating jobs, the kids also attempt to sneak in a new car, three-day school week, and an increase in their allowance.

Both ads are effective, but especially the one that features his family.  It humanizes Jacobs in a way the ad showing him sitting in a garage or delivering newspapers as a kid failed to do.  Looking back, the Jacobs campaign would have been wise to run some issue ads instead of “Iowa Effort” and the one of him in a garage.  Both ads are fine, but they said too little about what Jacobs would do in office.  The Jacobs campaign seemed to be a little bit adrift in March and April in terms of messaging.   Perhaps focusing on issues important to voters would have been a better use of money than rolling two soft bio-spots that didn’t really elicit much reaction.

The advantage of Jacobs’ personal wealth is easily seen when you look at the cumulative spending on television ads for each campaign.  Including this week, Jacobs has spent over $1.1 million on television ads.  His campaign has also placed TV buys for the final two weeks of the campaign for over $140,000 per week.  Jacobs’ spending on the airwaves has allowed him to blanket the state.  By the end of the primary, Jacobs will have racked up 5900 gross rating points on broadcast networks in the Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, and Sioux City markets.

If Jacobs doesn’t alter his ad buy between now and the June 3rd primary, he will have spent just over $900,000 on networks and another $480,000 on cable advertising.

State Senator Joni Ernst has gotten a lot of attention for the ads her campaign has produced, but she has not put much money behind the ads.  Ernst’s first ad, entitled “Squeal,” went viral.  Thanks to the attention it received, “Squeal” has had over 539,000 YouTube views.  Ernst’s second ad entitled, “Shot” also got a lot of attention, and has been viewed on You Tube over 131,000 times.

Ernst’s two ads, which she recently indicated in an interview might be the only ads she runs in the primary, clearly target conservative primary voters who either align with the Tea Party or Second Amendment supporters.  While the ads have made Ernst better known, she’s known for castrating pigs, riding a Harley, and shooting a handgun.  While that may give voters a glimpse of who she is, those are not the traditional things that candidates typically want to convey to voters.

The Ernst campaign is spending $28,593 on TV ads this week.  The bulk of her buy is for ads that will appear on Fox News.  She is only spending about $12,000 on broadcast TV, and only in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids market.  To put that into perspective, the Jacobs campaign is spending ten times that amount on broadcast TV across the entire state.  Jacobs is also spending twice as much as Ernst on cable ads this week.

If Ernst doesn’t change her ad buy before the June 3rd primary, she will end the campaign having run 670 gross rating points on KWWL in the Cedar Rapids market, 1080 points on KCCI in the Des Moines media market, and 170 points on KTIV in the Sioux City market.  While it would seem likely that Ernst would do whatever she could to increase her presence on TV between now and the primary, regardless of what she does, she is not going to be able to compete with Jacobs on the airwaves.

Two other U.S. Senate candidates have run TV ads.  Matt Whitaker spent $30,1248 to run ads from April 30th through May 13th.  Whitaker’s ad, “Iowa Story,” focuses on his experience being a football player for the Iowa Hawkeyes and as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.  Scott Schaben ran his ad, “Everyday” on cable, but only put $355 behind it.  Schaben is out with a new ad that features his support of a nationwide concealed carry law.  The only candidate who has not paid to run television ads is Sam Clovis, who has focused on building a robust grassroots effort across the state.

With recent polls showing that a large portion of primary
With recent polls showing that a large portion of primary voters are undecided, and given the fact that only one of the Republican primary candidates seems to have the ability to run TV ads on broadcast and cable systems across the state, the advantage seems to be with Jacobs.  Ernst, however, feels that she has become the frontrunner in the race.  While she has indeed received a tremendous amount of attention in recent weeks, if she wants to seal the deal with voters, she may need to spend more than the $66,000 she has reserved for the final two weeks before primary day.

Yes, a lot can happen in the span of the three weeks between now and the June 3rd primary, but when it comes to raising money to place TV ads, time is running out.

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 11.02.20 PM


Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 11.06.34 PM

Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 11.09.51 PM

About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

blog comments powered by Disqus