By The Numbers: TV Ad Buys In The Democratic Gubernatorial Primary

With under seven weeks left to the Democratic primary on June 5, the TV airways are starting to fill up with campaign ads. While every candidate has traveled the state, spoken at Democratic events, participated in countless forums and drawn media coverage, the reality is that the majority of Democratic primary-goers get informed about their choices through ads on TV, the radio or online.

Starting Line predicts that well over 150,000 people will participate in the Democratic primary. And just like in most statewide campaigns, the quickest way to get in front of all those people are with TV ads. While activists who read Starting Line may get a lot of their news from social media feeds, most voters in the state only hear about these races from the TV.

So, which candidates have bought the most ad time on TV and where in the state are they running them?

Iowa voters probably have a decent sense of which candidates are spending the most simply by watching their own TV, but you don’t get the clear, full picture without knowing the statewide ad buys. To help with that, Starting Line combed through all of the public file records and tabulated the numbers (which took a very, very long time). We broke them down by station and media market.

The difference is striking: Fred Hubbell has spent five times as much money as Nate Boulton on TV and nine times as much as Cathy Glasson. He’s also advertising in two markets that neither Boulton or Glasson is in. Andy McGuire just made her first purchases and looks to start advertising next week.

Before we get into the numbers, let’s discuss media markets (see the below map).

You don’t have to be an experienced campaign operative to see that the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids media markets are the most efficient and useful for Iowa campaigns to advertise in. The problem, however, is that many other markets are split with other states.

Sioux City’s market bleeds into Nebraska some, so when you advertise for an Iowa campaign, you’re wasting some of the costs on voters who can’t participate. It’s also a rather Republican area, making it less useful for a Democratic primary. The Davenport market covers some key Eastern Iowa counties for Democrats, but it also covers a lot of Illinois. The Omaha market is usually cost prohibitive and inefficient for Iowa campaigns. And most of the Rochester/Mason City market is in Minnesota.

With that in mind, let’s now get into the individual ad buys of the candidates. I compiled this data over the weekend, so there may be a new week of information up, but this gives you a pretty good idea of where things stand. I rounded up to the nearest thousand for these.

Fred Hubbell

Total Spent: $2,280,000

By media market:
Des Moines: $1,019,000
Cedar Rapids: $856,000
Davenport: $200,000
Sioux City: $123,000
Statewide outlets: $82,000

Timing: Hubbell was the first to go up on TV by a wide margin. He began advertising in mid-October, at first just placing buys in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets. Their ads took a break from the airways for a few weeks in November and December around the holidays. Hubbell expanded his advertising to the Sioux City and Davenport markets at the beginning of March and has stayed up in four markets since. He’s the only Democrat who has gone up on TV in Sioux City and Davenport. The size of Hubbell’s buys stayed relatively stable throughout 2018.

Nate Boulton

Total Spent: $463,000

By media market:
Des Moines: $272,000
Cedar Rapids: $191,000

Timing: Boulton began advertising in both the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets on January 16 with larger buys for about a month. He scaled back starting in mid-February, halving the size of most of his buys. That continued for another month until mid-March, when Boulton went off the air for about four weeks in the Cedar Rapids market and about two weeks in the Des Moines market. Boulton returned to the airwaves in both markets in the second week of April with ad buys in similar size to the mid-February to mid-March numbers.

Cathy Glasson

Total Spent: $254,000

By media market:
Des Moines: $156,000
Cedar Rapids: $97,000

Timing: Glasson began advertising for about a two-and-a-half week stretch from January 18 to February 5 (the day of the precinct caucuses). Then she went off the air until early March, then stayed up in the Des Moines and Cedar Rapids markets through the end of that month. She’s been off the airwaves ever since. [Update: Glasson announced on Thursday that her campaign is resuming TV ads].

Andy McGuire

Reserved (so far) for the future: $97,000

McGuire has yet to go up on TV yet, but she did just recently reserve spots from next week through the election. Those appear to be slated to begin on Tuesday, April 24. You can’t really compare these numbers to the other candidates since these are future ad buys that she may expand upon later. But as of right now, McGuire has reserved $46,000 worth of ads in the Des Moines market and $51,000 worth of ads in the Cedar Rapids market.

Kim Reynolds

Total Spent: $91,000

By media market:
Des Moines: $27,00
Cedar Rapids: $32,000
Sioux City: $14,000

The Republican incumbent just began airing ads last week. Her buys are significantly less at the moment than Hubbell’s in each market she’s in ($14,000 last week in Des Moines compared to Hubbell’s $80,000). And notably, she’s not yet advertising in the Davenport market. Of course, she doesn’t face a primary in several weeks.


Obviously, Hubbell’s fundraising advantage has allowed him to far outpace the rest of the field in TV ads. Being the only candidate up in the Davenport and Sioux City markets for over a month gives him a nice head start on the other candidates there – and it’s not clear whether the others will have enough funds to play there for more than just a few weeks at the end.

His individual week-by-week buys also outpace the other candidates. For example, Hubbell spent about $29,000 on KCCI TV ads during the second week of April. Boulton had $13,000 on KCCI ads during that same time period. If you want to get a sense of what some of this looks like, you can look at part of my spreadsheet where I compare major Des Moines station spending.

That kind of financial edge would be rather important for the general election. While whichever Democratic candidate wins the nomination would bring in more funding than they currently are, Hubbell obviously has the largest capacity to match or exceed Reynolds’ Republican donor machine. He’s currently the only one advertising to more of the state than Reynolds is.

Then again, one could also argue that if Hubbell is outspending his primary opponents on TV by five-to-one and doesn’t seem to be running away with the race yet, perhaps raw dollars isn’t the only thing that matters.

In any case, watch for both Boulton and Glasson to up their ad buys significantly some time after the legislative session ends for the year. PACs can resume giving to campaigns 30 days after adjournment – both of their campaigns got significant (or nearly all in Glasson’s case) funds from labor union PACs.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 4/18/18

4 Comments on "By The Numbers: TV Ad Buys In The Democratic Gubernatorial Primary"

  • I’d say that, anymore raw dollars have a some salutary effect, but not as much as the money would indicate. Just ask the Republican Party that tried to drown Conor Lamb in money, or, if I remember correctly, Roy Moore’s campaign who lost a race they never should have lost to Doug Jones , especially after outspending Jones.
    That said, although Hubbell is targeting many areas here, it seems that Bolton and Glasson are spending their funds a bit more “efficiently”, in areas where it might actually make a difference. (Is the Souix City area really gonna suddenly turn blue? Could happen, but I doubt it).
    I don’t know; perhaps in state/local races, it WILL come down to funds. (and I agree that Reynold’s campaign has “not yet begun to spend” – it’s coming…)

  • Hubbell is spending in areas where it is most important. The majority of his votes will depend on the non-union smaller and mid sized Iowa cities and towns as well as non-union votes from larger cities.. It will come from the older population that are concerned about the future of Iowa and their children and grandchildren. He has been able to travel around the state speaking to those folks and communities that feel they have been left out of Iowa’s government and economy. No doubt about it the best way to reach people is through TV. Hubbell has been able to accomplish reaching people also by combining his appearances in these small towns and cities. His TV ads will also reach the non-union city city Dems who feel they don’t have the political power than the Dems that are union members. The rural voters still control the majority of the votes in this state. Hubbell is on a roll. He is targeting that 35% threshold to get the nomination. We need a winner and we need a Democrat in the governor’s office and Hubbell is the best choice.

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