Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, left, and U.S. Sen. Martha McSally at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University prior to their Oct. 6, 2020, debate. Photos by Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic/USA Today Network | Pool photo
Mark Kelly is outspending his opponent Republican Sen. Martha McSally on television advertisements by two-to-one this election cycle despite 2020 being the worst year on record for TV sales.
Kelly has already been outpacing McSally on digital advertising by a wide margin and it appears that the former astronaut is keeping that momentum on television as well with $5.3 million spent compared to McSally’s $2.5 million, according to Cox Media’s Vice President Rich Barone.
“This is unlike any political year we have ever seen in Arizona,” Barone said to the Arizona Mirror, adding that overall political television advertising spending is likely to surpass $260 million. “This year it seems to be every seat that is up for grabs is putting money into mass media like television.”
Outside groups are spending big as well on television markets. Just this week the Washington, D.C.-based Senate Majority Super Pac spent $1.6 million on ad buys against McSally and the Senate Leadership Fund, a Super PAC associated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., spent over $2.7 million on television ads against Kelly in September, according to Federal Elections Commission data.
The style of advertising is different from past years as well, according to Barone.
In years past, politicians and political action committees would mainly target their ads to news channels like CNN, FOX and MSNBC. This year, candidates are diversifying.
Both McSally and Kelly are showing ads on a multitude of channels from Bravo and MTV to DIY networks.
The Mirror looked at FCC filings from the week of Oct. 5 to Oct. 9 and found that on top of showing ads in front of news shows and the vice presidential debate, both candidates had their campaign commercials showing before a variety of different shows.
McSally has been placing ads during American Ninja Warrior, Dr. Phil, Inside Edition, Ellen’s Game of Games and Football Night in America.
Kelly appears to be aiming at a much wider audience with ads during NASCAR, Military Makeover, Rachel Ray, Days of Our Lives, The Voice and American Ninja Warrior as well as many others.
But heavy hitters like Kelly and McSally are not the only ones getting in on television advertising this year, according to Barone.
Local elections have been swooping in on the market. In particular, Barone said that Cox has seen lots of attention in the Scottsdale region where Republican Congressman David Schweikert is up against Democrat Hiral Tipirneni.
“We are even getting some city council money coming in,” Barone noted.
Arizona is also a key focus of the presidential candidates. Former Vice President Joe Biden is currently outspending President Donald Trump two-to-one on television ads in Arizona as well, Barone said.
The tone of the ads this year has also been different than in years past, according to Barone.
“Traditionally, what we generally see is a pro-candidate ad then we see an ad run by the same camp going after the other candidate,” Barone said, but this year both sides had ads going after the other candidate. “Each side knew they were in for a battle so they came out of the gate swinging.”
The 2018 election was the highest amount of television ad buys Arizona had seen previously with over $100 million being spent, Barone said. This year outpaced it pretty quickly.
“I’m sure it will set the table for 2022,” Barone said.
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